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THE LIFE OF THE ANT 



THE LIFE OF THE ANT 



BY 



MAURICE MAETEK.UJNUK 



TRANSLATED BY 
BERNARD MIALL 




CASSELL AND COMPANY, LTD. 

London, Toronto, Melbourne and Sydney 



First published 1930 



PRINTED IN GRSAT BRITAIN 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGE 

INTRODUCTION 7 

I, GENERAL IDEAS 19 

II, THE SECRET OF THE FORMICARY ,,,,35 

III, THE FOUNDING OF THE COMMUNITY ,,,45 

IV, THE NEST 57 

V, WARFARE 70 

VI, COMMUNICATION AND ORIENTATION , , , 93 

VII, PASTORAL ANTS IIJ 

VIII, THE MUSHROOM-GROWERS 120 

IX, AGRICULTURAL ANTS IJ2 

X, PARASITES 153 

EPILOGUE 167 

BIBLIOGRAPHY l8l 

INDEX 188 



NOTE : With the exception of generic names, the Latin 
denominations in the text have commonly been left 
in the singular though subjects of plural verbs. This 
practice is fairly usual among entomological writers, and 
avoids the use of plural forms which might confuse 
readers who are not Latinists. (Tr.) 



INTRODUCTION 



MORE than once I have been asked why I did not 
complete the triptych of the social insects, the first 
two panels of which, 'The Life of the Bee" and 
"The Life of the White Ant," had been favour- 
ably received by the public. For a long while I 
hesitated. I felt that the ant was an ungrateful 
subject, too familiar, and antipathetic, It seemed 
to me of little use to repeat the statements as to its 
intelligence, industry, diligence, avarice, foresight, 
and policy which form part of the common patri- 
mony that we acquire in the ' preparatory school, 
and which linger in our memories beside such 
fragmentary historical incidents as the battle of 
Thermopylae or the siege of Jericho. 

Having lived always in the country more than 
in towns, I was naturally interested in this inevit- 
able insect. At one time I used even to keep 
ants in glass-topped boxes, and without any 
special purpose or method I observed their busy 
comings and goings, which did not teach me very 
much. 

Since then, returning on my steps, I have 
realized that in respect of the ant as indeed 
in respect of everything on earth while we 
think we know everything, we really know 



8 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

hardly anything; and the little we do learn 
tells us, at all events, how much remains to be 
learned. 

Above all, it enables us to realize the difficulties 
of the task. The hive or the termites' nest is all 
of a piece, and we can examine it from any angle. 
We can speak of a typical hive, a typical bee, a 
typical termitary, whereas there are as many kinds 
of ants' nests as there are species of ants, as many 
different modes of life as there are species. One 
can get no hold upon one's subject; one does not 
know at which point it is best attacked. The 
material available is too rich, too vast: its ramifica- 
tions are endless; we soon lose our way, and our 
interest is dispersed in all directions. Unity is 
impossible, for there is no centre. We find that 
we are writing not the history of a family or 
a community, but the annals, or rather the 
ephemeral chronicles, of a hundred different 
nations. 

Add to this that so soon as we take the first 
steps we are likely to lose our footing in the 
literature of myrmecophily. It is as abundant as 
the literature of apiculture, and of this, in the 
Entomological Bureau of Washington, there are 
more than twenty thousand examples. The biblio- 
graphical index given by Wheeler at the end of 
the volume entitled "Ants" would half fill this 
book. It is far from complete, for it does not 
include the publications of the last twenty 
years, 



INTRODUCTION 



We must therefore observe certain limits, and 
we must allow ourselves to be guided by the 
leading authorities. Without lingering over the 
precursors Aristotle, Pliny, Aldrovandi, Swam- 
merdam, Linnaeus, William Gould, and De Geer, 
to name no more let us loiter for a moment 
beside the veritable father of myrmecology : Rene- 
Antoine Ferchault de Reaumur. 

He is the father of the science, but a father 
unknown to his children. The rough draft of his 
"Histoire des Fourmis," buried amidst his later 
manuscripts, was mentioned by Flourens in 1860, 
and then completely forgotten. The great Ameri- 
can myrmecologist, W. M. Wheeler, rediscovered 
it in 1925, and in the following year published 
the French text in New York, accompanied by 
notes and a translation. This "History of the 
Ants' * had no influence whatever on the ento- 
mologists of the nineteenth century, but it deserves 
to be noticed, since it may be read with profit, 
and not without pleasure, for Reaumur, who was 
thirty-two years of age when Louis XIV died, 
wrote the French of the great period. We find in 
it, in the germ, and often in something more than 
the germ that is, in the almost perfect state a 
certain number of observations which were until 
recently accepted. This little treatise, which, as a 
matter of fact, was never completed, and con- 
tains only a hundred pages, revived, or rather 



io THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

re-established, the science of myrmecology as we 
understand it to-day. 

It begins by destroying a number of legendary 
beliefs and prejudices which had obscured the 
approaches to the formicary since the days of 
Solomon, and St. Jerome, and the Middle Ages. 
Above all, he conceived the idea of keeping ants 
in what he calls "pounce-boxes," which were, 
according to his own description, "bottles of glass 
like those found in the cabinets of connoisseurs, 
of which the mouth has almost the same diameter 
as the base," thereby inaugurating the artificial 
nests which since his day have been of such 
service to entomologists. He states that the ant 
and experiment has confirmed the statement is 
able to live nearly a year in moist earth without 
food. He understands the importance and the 
significance of the nuptial flight, and is the first 
writer to explain why the females have wings, 
which they suddenly discard after their union is 
consummated; whereas the elder naturalists were 
convinced that the female ant grew wings only in 
her old age, as a sort of consolation, so that she 
might die with greater dignity. Anticipating 
Gould, he notes the manner in which a fertilized 
queen founds a colony. He writes of the laying 
of the eggs, and more than suspects the endosmosis 
which is the key to the inexplicable enigma of 
their growth. He describes how the larva or 
nymph begins its cocoon, whose fabric, as he 
remarks, "consisting of several layers of threap 



INTRODUCTION 

adhering to one another, is so compact that 
would take it to be a membrane if one did not 
know how it had been constructed." He does not 
omit to note the regurgitation which is, as we 
shall see, the essential and fundamental act of the 
formicary, He even has some intuition of the 
phototropisms which play so important a part in 
the early manifestations of life; and after falling 
into a few unimportant errors, he makes one, 
and only one serious mistake: he confounds the 
ants with the termites; but this confusion was in 
his day almost inevitable, and the distinction was 
finally established only at the close of the 
eighteenth century. 



Since abridgment is here unavoidable, we must 
regretfully pass over the myrmecologists of the 
intervening period Leeuwenhoeck, who dealt 
with the metamorphoses of ants, Latreille, who 
made the first tentative classifications, Charles 
Bonnet, the great naturalist and philosopher, who 
discovered the parthenogenesis of the plant-lice, 
the cattle of the ants, and many others' to pass 
on at once to contemporary myrmecology. 

First of all we salute Pierre Huber, the son of 
Francois Huber, the historian of the bees; both 
citizens of Geneva. Their compatriot, Auguste 
Forel, who is entitled to judge, since with Was- 
mann, Wheeler, Emery, 'and a few others he is 



12 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

one of the great myrmecologtsts of the day, 
declares that Pierre Huberts "Les Recherches sur 
les Mceurs des Fourmis indigenes" is "the Bible 
of myrmecology." He does not exaggerate; it is 
a work in which only its delightful prolixity seems 
a little out of date. It enjoyed great success at 
the time of its publication, and was hotly attacked, 
but its minute and almost fatherly observations 
of the Grey-Black Ant, the Miner Ant, and the 
Amazon, which in his day bore these familiar 
names, and have since become the Praten$i$> 
RufibarUs and Polyergus Rufescens of science, have 
endured more than a century of criticism, and 
have not been found wanting. For that matter, 
he began with an admirable principle, of which 
he never lost sight and which has become the 
fundamental rule of entomology: "The more I am 
attracted by the marvels of nature, the less am I 
inclined to spoil them by alloying them with the 
fantasies of the imagination." 

If, as Forel says, "Les Recherches sur les 
Mceurs des Fourmis indigenes" is the Bible of 
myrmecology, Forel 's own work, "Les Fourmis de 
la Suisse," is the Summa. The second edition in 
particular, published in 1920, is the veritable en- 
cyclopaedia of the ant, in which nothing has been 
forgotten; but it has the defects of its quali- 
ties; in other words, jt is too densely packed; 
one cannot see the wood for the trees, and one 
ends by losing one's way. On the other hand, the 
sureness and exactitude of M, Ford's observa- 



INTRODUCTION 13 

tions and the breadth and integrity of his erudi- 
tion are beyond criticism. It is hardly- possible 
to speak of the ant without owing to him at least 
a third of what one says. It is true that he himself 
owes two-thirds of what he tells us to other 
specialists. Thus it is that science progresses, 
overflowing in all directions the too brief life 
of man ; or, if you prefer, it is thus that history 
progresses, for myrmecology, after all, is but the 
history of a strange and unfamiliar race. Like all 
histories, it compels us frequently to retrace its 
record, to go back to its starting-point, and ten 
successive human lives would not suffice to 
assemble and combine all the observations which 
are to-day at our disposal, and which are the fruit 
of nearly two hundred years' labour. But one thing 
we may endeavour to do; to extract from these 
countless little data, apparently so dissimilar and 
incoherent, a meaning and a general idea, It is 
easier, however, to make the attempt than to 
succeed. 

After Forel comes Wasmann, a German Jesuit, 
whose name recurs on every page of the history 
of the ant. He turned his attention more especially 
to the study of the slave-holding races, and devoted 
thirty years to studying the parasites of the 
ants 7 nest a subject, as we shall presently see, 
of truly formidable dimensions. He is an admir- 
able observer whose patience and lucidity are 
exemplary. 

The mere list of his books, pamphlets, and 



14 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

articles would occupy a dozen pages of this 
volume. They have only one defect: when explana- 
tion becomes difficult the theologian or the casuist 
gets the better of the scientist, and goes out of his 
way to excuse or glorify a God who is too manifestly 
the deity of the Jesuits. 

In the work of William Morton Wheeler, 
Professor of Entomology in the University of 
Harvard, it is not theology, but human thought 
which is blended with, and gives life to, the purely 
objective science of the entomologist. 

As an observer. Wheeler is no less scrupulous 
than Forel and Wasmann; but as a thinker he sees 
farther and probes more deeply and derives from 
what he has seen reflections and general ideas of 
greater scope than those of his colleagues. 

I must not forget to mention the engineer, 
Charles Janet, whose innumerable treatises, mono- 
graphs, and communications to learned societies, 
clear, precise, and impeccable, and adorned by 
anatomical plates which have become classic, have 
for nearly fifty years enriched myrmecology as 
well as many other sciences. He is one of those 
great workers to whom justice is done only when 
they are dead. 

Above all, we must not forget the Italian, 
C. Emery, the great classifier, who has devoted 
himself to the dry and ungrateful but necessary 
task of establishing the minute and technical 
description the myrmecological catalogue, so to 
speak of most of the ants, in order that they may 



INTRODUCTION 15 

be accurately identified. It is probable that good 
photographs in natural colours, with enlarge- 
ments of details, will in time take the place of 
these descriptions, which are almost as deceptive 
as the descriptions on passports. Other specialists, 
notably Bondroit and Ernest Andr6, have applied 
themselves to the same task. Ernest Andre, more- 
over, is the author of the only popular and easily 
accessible monograph in the French language. 
Unfortunately it is somewhat out of date, having 
appeared nearly fifty years ago that is, at a 
time when Forel had only just published his first 
version of the u Fourmis de la Suisse," and when 
Wasmann and Wheeler were beginning their 
labours. He was not familiar, for example, with 
the fungus-growing ants, which in his day were 
known as the Leaf-cutter Ants, since it was 
believed that the only use which they made of the 
segments which they cut from leaves was to line 
their tunnels with them. He knew nothing of the 
extraordinary Weaver Ants; nor of the latest 
observations of the Visiting Dorylinus, nor of the 
interesting experiments relating to the olfactory 
sense and the power of orientation, nor of the 
tragic manner in which a colony is founded. On 
the other hand, he accepted, perhaps too readily, 
though not without reserve, certain sentimental 
imaginings relating to the cemeteries of our 
fossorial hymenoptera, their cult of the dead, 
their funeral processions, their first-class inter- 
ments, their concessions to perpetuity, and the 



1 6 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

like; whereas they do no more than get rid of 
corpses as promptly as possible, carrying them 
out of the nest; and while they do not devour 
them as the termites do, this is probably because 
they would not be able to digest them, rather than 
because of any delicacy of feeling. 



But further enumeration would become tedious. 
Other names will occur in the following pages, 
and will be found, at the end of the volume, in a 
bibliography which is necessarily brief but which 
comprises all that is really essential. 

It will perhaps be said that these hundreds of 
scientists, by no means the least of their profession, 
who might have done so many other things of a 
more profitable nature, have wasted a great deal 
of time and taken a great deal of trouble to 
observe the habits and discover the petty secrets 
of some very insignificant creatures. But where 
the mysteries of life are concerned nothing is 
insignificant. All creatures, great and small, are 
on the same plane, and equally important; and 
the astronomer works on the same plane, and with 
the same material, as the entomologist. 

There is no hierarchy in the sciences, and 
myrmecology is a science, and one which 
approaches more closely than many others the 
subtler contours of the most tragic and baffling 
problems. From a certain point of view the 



INTRODUCTION 17 

meanest ant-hill, a replica in little of our own 
destinies, is more interesting than the most 
formidable congeries of extra-galactic nebulae, 
even though this contain millions of stars thousands 
of times larger than our own sun. It may perhaps 
help us to decipher, a little sooner and more 
effectually, the thoughts and the afterthoughts of 
Nature, and certain of her secrets, which are every- 
where identical, whether on the earth or in the 
heavens. 

In order that we should really be interested 
as it is just and necessary that we should be 
interested in lives which are not on the scale of 
our own, let us imagine that we are considering 
the history of a pre-human race, which lived and 
died some thousands or millions of years before our 
own advent. We have no means of knowing that 
such a race may not have existed, just as we have 
no means of knowing that a post-human race will 
not arise some thousands or millions of years after 
our departure. In the infinity of time the past and 
the future are interchangeable. 



THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

CHAPTER I 

GENERAL IDEAS 



LET us, to begin with, recapitulate as briefly as 
possible a few elementary data which it will be 
well to keep in mind. The ants are aculeate 
hymenoptera, fossorial and social. Up to the 
present time six thousand species have been 
described, and all these species have their own 
habits, their individual characters, For that matter, 
it is probable that a less conventional method 
of classification would double this number. But 
we will not venture into the jungle of the entomo- 
logical classifications into families, sub-families, 
species, races, or sub-species, tribes, and sub- 
tribes; such an excursion would take us too far 
afield, and after all the subject is not one of any 
real interest. Let us be content to follow Wheeler, 
who divides the ants into eight principal series: 
namely, the Lorylina^ the Cerapachyin*, the 
iPonerin*) the Leptanilint, the Pseudomyrmin^^ 
the Myrmicintf) the Dolichoderintf, and the Formi- 
dna. Only the Myrmicin^ and the Formicin^ are 



20 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

cosmopolitan; all the rest are tropical or sub- 
tropical. The common ancestors of all would 
appear to be the Ponerin<e. 

After all, these nomenclatures, which are fre- 
quently much more complicated than Wheeler's 
(for example, Forel's and Emery's), are of actual 
interest only to the technical myrmecologist. 

The ants and the termites are above all social 
insects. The bees, contrary to the general belief, 
are social only by exception. As a matter of fact, 
ten thousand species of bee are known to science, 
of which only five hundred live in societies, 
whereas there is not a single species of solitary 
ant or termite. 

Unlike the termites, which are confined to hot 
countries, die ants have invaded almost all the 
habitable portions of the globe, excepting only 
the extreme north and very high altitudes. 
Geologically they appear to be of later origin than 
the termites, whose ancestors are the Blattoidtf, 
insects, as yet solitary, belonging to the Cretacean 
or Secondary period, and themselves the descen- 
dants of hypothetical Protoblattoid*) which lived, 
presumably, in the Permian, the superior portion 
of the formation of the Primary period. 



The ants are the most abundant of all insects 
in the Tertiary deposits. We find them in the 
Eocene, the most ancient of these deposits. There, 



GENERAL IDEAS 21 

it is true, they are somewhat rare. In the Oligocene 
and the Miocene, on the other hand, they are 
found in considerable numbers. Eleven thousand 
seven hundred and eleven specimens contained in 
the Baltic amber have been examined, as well as 
hundreds of other specimens found in the Sicilian 
amber of the middle Miocene, But here is a 
most disconcerting fact: contrary to expectation, 
we find that the more ancient ants are not more 
primitive than those found in fossil amber, and 
that the latter, despite the millions of years 
which divide them from the ants of to-day, are 
almost as fully specialized, almost as civilized. 
Many of them, Wheeler tells us, had learned to 
seek out plant-lice and were consequently "tro- 
phobiotic," as is demonstrated by a block of 
amber in the Konigsberg collection, which con- 
tains workers of Iridomyrmex Goepperli, together 
with a number of plant-lice. It can hardly be 
doubted that the ants of the amber had myrmeco- 
philes in their nests, since Klebs, in his list of the 
coleoptera of the amber, mentions three kinds of 
e* And the Paussid<e> together with the 
) are the most dangerous of parasites, 
for the workers of the nests in which they 
establish their domicile become etheromaniacs. 

Now the rearing of cattle and the maintenance of 
parasites, and above all of such coleoptera as must 
be regarded purely as luxuries, mark, as we shall 
see, the culminating point of their present civiliza- 
tion. What, then, are we to conclude? Well, if we 



22 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

choose we may draw very strange conclusions : as, 
for example, that evolution is less proven, less 
certain than is generally asserted; that all the 
species, with their divers degrees of civilization, 
date from the same moment, and were, as the 
Bible declares, created on the same day; and 
consequently, that tradition is nearer to the truth 
than science. It may be remarked, en passant, that 
the universal discrimination of the ants and the 
termites, which are found in all countries of the 
Old World and the New alike, reminds us of 
another tradition, more or less esoteric, and 
anterior to the Bible, which claims that all civiliza- 
tion descended from the boreal regions, and 
speaks of the Antarctic bridge, as hot as the 
Equator, by which all the continents were joined, 

But without venturing on such hazardous 
conjectures, without going so far afield, we may 
very reasonably maintain that the ant is older, 
and vastly older, than the oldest geological speci- 
mens. For the earliest ants we should have to go 
back far beyond these specimens, hundreds and 
even thousands of millions of years, back into the 
horror of almost infinite time, back to the Pre- 
cretacean, back to the close of the Permian period, 
which was characterized by a high temperature 
and extreme aridity. But before the Mesozoic, in 
the Secondary period, no fossils are found. 

It is possible also to maintain that all evolution 
is thousands of times more gradual than we 
imagine it to be; so incredibly gradual that it will 



GENERAL IDEAS 23 

not reach its goal in time, that before reaching it 
if we admit that anything can have a goal our 
earth will probably have disappeared. 

Nevertheless, according to some myrmecolo- 
gists and notably according to Wheeler a highly 
plausible evolution is revealed, whose steps may 
be followed from species to species. According to 
them, the ants, impelled by various circumstances, 
passed from terrestrial life, which was their original 
mode of existence, to arboreal life, and from the 
entomophagous regime, during which they were 
essentially predatory, nourishing themselves only 
on the flesh of other insects, to the aphidicultural or 
pastoral regime, and finally to the fungicultural 
that is, the agricultural and vegetarian stage. This 
evolution which is not, however, irrefutably 
established, and of which all the stages coexist 
to-day is strangely like that of man, who has 
been successively a hunter, a herdsman, and an 
agriculturist. And we find here likewise the three 
stages of human history recognized by Auguste 
Comte: conquest, defence, and industry. These, 
assuredly, are curious coincidences. 



3 

The population of the ant-hill or ants' nest 
consists of queens, or fertilized females, who live 
as long as twelve years; countless numbers of 
workers, unsexed, who, being less overworked 
than bees, live for three or four years; and some 



24 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

hundreds of males, who disappear after five or 
six weeks, for in the insect world the male is 
almost always sacrificed. 

The males and females alone possess wings, 
which, for that matter, they discard after the 
nuptial flight. There is not, as among the bees and 
termites, one sole queen or mother, but as many 
fruitful females as are judged to be necessary by 
the secret council which presides over the destinies 
of the myrmecaean republic. In small nests there 
will be two or three, in large nests as many as 
fifty, and in confederate nests their number is 
indeterminate, 

Here we are confronted once more by the 
great problem of the hive and the termites* nest. 
Who reigns and governs in the State? Where is 
the mind or spirit that gives the orders which 
are never disputed? Concerted action is as 
indubitable and as wonderful among the ants as 
among the bees and termites, and must present 
greater difficulties, for the life of the ants is, in 
general, far more complex and adventurous, and 
richer in unforeseen contingencies. In the absence 
of a better explanation, perhaps the most admis- 
sible is that which I suggested in "The Life of 
the White Ant": namely, that the formicary must 
be regarded as an individual, whose cells, unlike 
those of our bodies, which number about sixty 
trillions, are not agglomerated but dissociated, 
disseminated, externalized, while remaining sub- 
ject, despite their seeming independence, to the 



GENERAL IDEAS 25 

same central law. It is equally possible that we shall 
one day discover in the ant-hill a whole complex of 
electro-magnetic or etheric or psychic relations of 
which we have as yet but the vaguest notion. 



As a matter of fact, if we look more closely, we 
shall find that our sixty trillions of cells, although 
they are enclosed in our bodies, are relatively as 
widely disseminated as the thousands of bees, 
termites, or ants outside the limits of their dwel- 
lings. The intervals between cell and cell are in 
proportion to their size, or rather, in proportion 
to the size of the electrons which constitute their 
soul; and these distances must, comparatively 
speaking, be as great as the distances which 
separate the stars in the heavens, for the infinitely 
little is equivalent to the infinitely great. If the 
human body (as Wheeler very justly remarks) could 
be compressed until its electrons were in contact 
with one another, its volume would not exceed a 
few cubic millimetres, This compression or density 
is not impossible, since Nature has realized it in 
certain stars known as " white dwarfs/' notably in 
the mysterious satellite of Sirius, on which a pint 
of water if water could remain liquid there 
would weigh nearly thirty tons. 

If this be so we can more readily explain why, 
as we shall see later on, the workers of an enormous 
colony of confederate nests know, or rather "feel," 



z6 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

with a precision which amazes us, how many 
fecundated females are indispensable. When we 
are hungry and thirsty an analogous phenomenon 
occurs in our vast confederation of cells. They 
experience a collective hunger and thirst. All 
our cells experience this hunger and thirst 
simultaneously, and they order those which act 
upon the external world to do what is necessary 
to satisfy the general hunger and thirst, just as 
they command them to cease operations so soon 
as they are appeased. 

It will be seen that this comparison is less 
temerarious than might have been supposed. Each 
of us is merely a collective being, a colony of 
social cells; but we do not in the least know what 
commands, directs, regulates, and harmonizes the 
prodigiously complex and disseminated activities 
of our organic life, the basis of an existence of 
which our conscious or intellectual life is only an 
accessory manifestation, belated, precarious, and 
ephemeral. We do not know, we cannot under- 
stand our own secret, which seems to us so 
obvious; how then can we hope to fathom the 
great analogous secret which is concealed in the 
colonies of the social insects ? 



s 

It is probable, then, that there is, to begin 
with, a collective and unanimous life, which guides, 
in a massive or general fashion, the destinies of the 



GENERAL IDEAS 27 

formicary. But within this general and fundamental 
movement a host of individual activities are 
perceptible, which support it, and may even 
exert an influence over the direction which it 
follows. As in our human history, we detect a 
certain liberty within its inevitability. In order 
to realize this we have only to observe the ants 
at work. We shall there at once behold the picture 
drawn by Huber, to whom we must refer^the 
reader, for it cannot be described more precisely 
than he has described it: 

"It is above all when the ants begin some under- 
taking that we seem to see an idea taking shape in 
their minds and being realized in execution. Thus, 
when one of them finds on the nest a couple of 
intersecting blades of grass, which might favour 
the formation of a cell, or a few tiny beams which 
outline the sides and corners of such a cell, we 
see the ant examine the different parts of this 
arrangement, and then, with great skill and con- 
sistency, place fragments of earth in the gaps, 
and along the stems ; bringing from all directions 
the materials which it may require, sometimes 
even without respecting the work which others 
have begun, so wholly is it dominated by the idea 
which it has conceived, and which it pursues 
without succumbing to any distraction. It comes, 
and goes, and returns again, until its plan has 
become perceptible to other ants. . . . 

"In another part of the ants' nest several bits 
of grass seemed to have been placed expressly 



28 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

in order to form the framework of the roof of a 
large cell ; a worker took advantage of this arrange- 
ment; these fragments, lying horizontally half an 
inch from the ground, crossed one another in such 
a manner as to form an elongated parallelogram. 
The industrious insect began by placing earth in 
all the corners of this framework, and along the 
little beams of which it was composed; the same 
worker then placed several rows of these materials 
in juxtaposition, so that the roof of the house 
was beginning to grow quite distinct; when, 
having perceived the possibility of employing 
another plant as the support of a vertical wall, 
it laid the foundation of this wall in the same 
manner. Other ants having by then arrived, they 
completed in common the structures which the 
first had begun," 



We have all observed similar scenes, when a 
scrap of grass has had to be transported, or an 
insect dissected and carried into a gallery too 
narrow to admit it whole, or when it has been 
necessary to cross a pool of water. They recur in 
all critical or abnormal circumstances at least, 
in all that we are able to perceive and understand: 
which are, of course, few enough in comparison 
with those that completely escape our attention. 
An idea is not adopted unless it seems to be a 
good one. We have here no pre-established under- 



GENERAL IDEAS 29 

standing, no innate agreement, but appreciation 
of the circumstances and decisions formed on the 
spot before setting to work; as in a group of men 
who had a general plan of a house which they 
had to build. 

The spectacle is even more striking when a 
decision has to be taken on which the future of 
the colony may depend; notably in the case of 
emigration, when the nest is abandoned; and 
especially in mixed nests that is, nests inhabited 
by masters and slaves, or auxiliaries of two 
different races, whose intelligence and habits are 
dissimilar. The Glebariee^ for example, who are 
the housekeepers of the Amazons, find that their 
house is becoming inadequate; for they are more 
acutely aware of all its inconveniences than their 
owners, whom they tend and feed, and who 
emerge from their apathy only to go to war. One 
of these masterful servants, in her incessant 
explorations, discovers in the neighbourhood a 
spacious deserted ants' nest which she considers 
to be more comfortable or more advantageously 
situated than her own. By taps of her antennae she 
informs two or three of her sisters of her dis- 
covery, drags them almost by force to the more 
desirable nest, and demonstrates its advantages. 
They allow themselves to be convinced, and re- 
cruit proselytes in their turn, and presently, by a 
minority, reinforced by the attraction of novelty, 
the emigration is decreed. The next thing to do 
is to remove the warriors. Are they consulted? 



3 o THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

It is hardly probable. In any case, each slave 
takes charge of one of her mistresses, carries her 
to her new home, and deposits her on the threshold 
where she is received by other slaves, who show 
her the way into the cellars; after which they 
busy themselves with transferring the eggs, 
larvae, and nymphs. 

Sometimes there is a dispute, and a portion of 
the colony refuses to join in the migration; some- 
times the emigrants regret their old nest, and 
return to it in a body. 

These facts are by no means imaginary or 
unduly humanized. They have been observed 
repeatedly, and anyone may verify them who 
will take the trouble to do so. They show that the 
part played by the mysterious agreement or 
innate understanding may be restricted. This 
understanding is manifested more particularly 
in the distribution of work, in the estimation 
of the number of males and females indispensable 
to prosperity, and in certain other important con- 
junctures. But is it spontaneous and purely 
instinctive ? Let us confess that we do not know. 
We have not been present at the deliberations of 
the workers, and we know hardly anything of 
what happens in the depths of the formicary. 
To interpret is not always to understand. At most 
we are able to state that the ant seems often to 
hover, like ourselves, between instinct, which 
represents destiny, and intelligence, which may 
deflect the straight line of destiny. But so soon as 



GENERAL IDEAS 31 

intelligence makes its appearance in this world it 
evokes dangers and gives rise to difficulties which 
are unknown to instinct. On the other hand, it 
averts other dangers and difficulties which instinct 
could not have avoided. 

The ant has entered upon the path which we 
ourselves are following, and this is why it is 
acquainted with human errors and perils. It is 
borne onward, like ourselves, by an unknown 
fate, but like ourselves it is free to move within 
its restricted sphere. Have the internal activities 
modified the path of this sphere ? Before we could 
answer this question or most other questions, for 
that matter we should have to know more than 
it is possible for us to know. 



What name shall we give this kind of under- 
standing, and to the government which results 
from it? Which of our human formulae would be 
even approximately applicable here? Is it a mere 
republic of reflexes? But could such a republic 
lead to anything save death? Is it, as it has 
recently been called, an "organized anarchy," 
or a "cumulative collectivity"? Theocracy and 
monarchy may be rejected as improbable; and 
what is left? Democracy, oligarchy, and what 
seems more probable aristocracy and geronto- 
cracy. We shall always find that the ants, when 
at work, follow the example of a few workers who 



32 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

have more initiative than their fellows. There is 
nothing to distinguish these workers from the 
crowd: they wear no distinctive badge or uniform; 
but there is no doubt that their companions 
recognize them and willingly give heed to them, 
Are they veterans, full of experience, or young 
chieftains full of genius ? Their orders are rather 
counsels, and often enough they have to explain 
their reasons, and the advantages to be gained; 
governing less by authority than by persuasion. 
Here, one might say, is the provisional govern- 
ment of the best ideas, based on the solid and 
stable foundation of the general instinct. We must 
not lose sight of the fact that in the world of the 
ants all things are done beneath the supreme sign 
of unity and love but a virgin, disinterested love, 
of which we shall never have any conception 
which enormously increases and extends its 
empire. 

It was of this that Huber had a presentiment. 
"Thus," he tells us, "the great secret of the har- 
mony which we admire in their republics is by 
no means so complex a mechanism as is generally 
supposed: we must look for it rather in their 
reciprocal affection." And this reciprocal affec- 
tion, as we shall presently see, derives directly 
from an absolutely special organ, whose function- 
ing controls the entire psychology and morality of 
the ants' nest. 

To Huberts remark Espinas very justly adds 
the comment: "I would say rather that we must 



GENERAL IDEAS 33 

look for this 'secret in their common affection for 
their larvse, and (for besides the end one must 
indicate the means) to the small dose of individual 
intelligence with which the hymenoptera are 
endowed, multiplied by the laws of imitation and 
accumulation which we have indicated." 

We may, indeed, verify the fact that contrary 
to what may be observed in human crowds, the 
collective and cumulative intelligence of the social 
insects seems to be in proportion to the number of 
cells which compose the organism, for the more 
populous species and agglomerations are in general 
the more enterprising, ingenious, and civilized. 

However this may be, it seems to me that 
Huber's "reciprocal affection" and Espinas's 
"common affection for the larvae" are very near 
the truth. We have here the ideal republic which 
we shall never know, the republic of mothers. 
Though virgin, all its citizens feel themselves to 
be mothers by delegation, more profoundly and 
passionately than the actual progenetrix. Seek 
where you will in Nature, you will nowhere find so 
magnificent a maternal love. The hen defends her 
chickens against whatever enemy, but she does 
not love her eggs. Cut off the abdomen of a 
worker ant who is trying to save a cocoon; cut 
off her two hind legs, if you have the odious 
courage; and without releasing her hold, walking 
on her four remaining legs, and dragging her 
entrails behind her for her vitality is as prodi- 
gious as her love she will pursue her path, and 



34 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

will refuse to die until the nymph or larva which 
for her represents the future is safely bestowed. 

In this heroic matriarchate each worker obsti- 
nately does her duty to the profit of all, as though 
all were but herself. The centre of gravity of 
conscience and happiness is not where it is with 
us. It is not in the individual, but wherever there 
is a cell of that whole of which the individual 
forms a part. The result is a government superior 
to any that man will ever be able to realize. 



CHAPTER II 

THE SECRET OF THE FORMICARY 

i 

FROM the days of ,Esop, whose sources were 
prehistoric, to those of La Fontaine, the ant was 
the most calumniated of insects. Contrasted with 
the cigale or cicada, which was, for some reason, 
endowed with all the facile and decorative virtues, 
she became the crabbed symbol of suspicious 
parsimony, of envious meanness, of narrow, male- 
volent, petty churlishness. As compared with the 
great and misunderstood artist, she represented the 
petty bourgeois, the small investor, the subordi- 
nate official, the small tradesman of the back 
streets of a little town without proper sanitation; 
and the very people who resembled her most 
closely despised her most profoundly. To rehabili- 
tate her and to do her justice the labours of the great 
myrmecologists were necessary; and of these the 
earliest, as we have seen, was Jean-Pierre Huber, 
To-day it is accepted as proven that the ant is 
incontestably one of the noblest, most courageous, 
most charitable, most devoted, most generous, and 
most altruistic creatures on earth, As far as that 
goes, she can take no credit for this, any more 
than we can take credit for the fact that we are 



36 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

the most intelligent of the creatures inhabiting our 
planet. We owe this advantage merely to a mons- 
trously developed organ with which Nature has 
endowed us, just as the ant owes the virtues which 
have been enumerated to an organ of another 
kind with which she has been endowed in an excep- 
tional degree, as the result of a caprice, an experi- 
ment, or a fantastic idea of the same Nature. 

The ant, in fact, possesses at the entrance of 
the abdomen an extraordinary pouch, which 
might be called the social pouch or crop. This 
pouch explains her entire psychology and morality, 
and the greater part of her life's career ; and for 
this reason we must examine it carefully before 
proceeding farther. This pouch is not a stomach; 
it contains no digestive glands, and the food 
which is accumulated therein is preserved intact. 
Since the aliment of the ant, who possesses power- 
ful mandibles for seizing her prey or her enemy, 
for piercing, cutting, dividing, decapitating, and 
tearing, but has no teeth which can masticate, is 
almost entirely liquid a sort of saccharine dew 
the sac in question is a collective flagon, reserved 
exclusively for the community. This flagon or 
leather bottle is ingeniously and completely 
separated from the individual stomach, which the 
aliments contained in it do not reach until several 
days have elapsed, and after the common hunger 
has been satisfied. It is enormously elastic, occupy- 
ing four-fifths of the abdomen, and thrusting aside 
all the other organs ; and it can be dilated to such an 



THE SECRET OF THE FORMICARY 37 

extent that in certain American species notably 
in Myrmecocystus Hortus-Deorum of the United 
States and Mexico it assumes the form of a 
demijohn, a jar, or rather a bonbon, eight or ten 
times as voluminous as the normal stomach. These 
insect bonbons have one sole function: they are 
the living reservoirs of the community. Voluntary 
prisoners, who never again see the light of day, 
they grip the ceiling of the nest with their forefeet, 
hanging from it in serried ranks, giving it the 
appearance of a well-ordered cellar, into which 
the honey-dew gathered outside is disgorged, and 
to which the inhabitants resort in order to demand 
its regurgitation. 

Pardon the word: it is inevitable. It reminds 
one of indigestion and its unpleasant concomi- 
tants; but, like the rumination of cattle, it has 
nothing in common with these. It is the technical 
term, beloved of the myrmecologists, who are 
forced to abuse it a little; but it must be admitted, 
for regurgitation, or disgorgement, is the essential 
and fundamental act whence the social life, the 
virtues, the morality, and the politics of the 
formicary are derived; just as that which dis- 
tinguishes us from all the other inhabitants of 
this earth is derived from our brain. 



"The ant," says the fable, "does not lend." 
That is true; she does not lend, for to lend is but 



3 8 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

the gesture of the miser; she gives without reckon- 
ing, and she never asks for repayment. She 
possesses nothing, not even the contents of her 
own body. She hardly thinks of eating. What does 
she live on ? It is difficult to say : on the atmosphere, 
on diffused electricity, on vapours or effluvia. 
Starve her for weeks on the plaster of an artificial 
ants' nest, and so long as you provide a little 
moisture she will not suffer in any way; she will 
busy herself about her petty affairs, as alert and 
active as if her cellars were full to overflowing. 
A drop of dew will fill her individual stomach. 
All that she is constantly seeking and amassing is 
intended only for the collective crop, the insatiable 
communal sac ; for the eggs, the larvae, the nymphs, 
her comrades and even her enemies. She is 
nothing but an organ of charity. An indefatigable 
worker, ascetic, chaste, virgin, neuter that is to 
say, sexless her sole pleasure is to offer, to 
whomsoever will partake of it, the whole fruit of 
her labours. For her regurgitation must be an act 
as delightful as is for us the degustation of the 
choicest meats and wines. It seems evident that 
in this act Nature has incorporated pleasures 
analogous to those of the love of which she is 
deprived. The ant, regurgitating with reverted 
antennae, has an ecstatic appearance (as Auguste 
Forel has remarked), and evidently experiences a 
greater pleasure than the comrade who is gorging 
herself with honey. And in most formicaries 
regurgitation is, so to speak, incessant, and is 



THE SECRET OF THE FORMICARY 39 

interrupted only by labour, the care of offspring, 
rest, and war. 

It may even be questioned whether the ant 
whose social crop is dilated to bursting is able 
to pass a single drop into her individual stomach. 
We know that certain warlike races, and notably 
Polyergus rufescens^ which Huber calls "the Ama- 
zon," are unable to feed without the help of 
regurgitating slaves, and would die of hunger in 
a pool of syrup. This species of perpetual com- 
munion of mouth to mouth is thus the normal 
and almost general form of alimentation. 

To convince oneself of the fact, it is enough to 
tinge a few drops of honey with some blue dye, 
and offer them to one of our little yellow ants, 
whose bodies are almost transparent. We shall 
soon see her stomach dilating and assuming an 
azure tinge. Burdened with honey, she returns 
to her nest. Half a dozen mendicant comrades, 
attracted by the odour of honey, feverishly stroke 
her antennas. She satisfies them immediately, 
and the stomachs of all those about her become 
blue. They have hardly finished feasting when 
they are solicited by other comrades, coming 
up from their underground galleries, who in 
turn partake of the revealing drop, and so on, 
until all is consumed. After this the first bene- 
factress, who has given all that she possessed, 
trots cheerfully away, evidently happier than if 
she had just enjoyed three or four sumptuous 
meals. 



40 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 



The mendicant need not even be a fellow- 
citizen ; any stranger, provided she is more or less 
impregnated with the odour of the nest, any 
daughter of a race which is not too obviously 
fundamentally hostile, if the doorkeepers have 
permitted her to enter the nest, or a parasite even, 
which may be harmful, but is for some inexplic- 
able reason tolerated by the general benevolence, 
provided the suppliant understands how to set 
about the business, how to caress the benefactor, 
may obtain all the food desired. Nothing is more 
easily deceived than the ant's imprudent charity. 
We shall even see ants who in the thick of the 
mel^e cannot resist the solicitations of a hungry 
enemy; they will give her alms, and chivalrously 
revictual her before resuming the struggle. 

Sometimes their charity goes too far, and leads 
to the ruin of the colony. For example, a Tunisian 
ant, the Wheehriella^ which has been studied by 
Dr. Santschi, introduces herself into the nest of 
another species, the Monomorium Salomonis. She is 
at first rather coldly received, but presently, by 
means of skilful caresses, she gains the favour of 
the workers, who end by preferring her to their 
own queens, whom they abandon and ill-treat for 
the benefit of the astute adventuress, whose 
charms appear to be irresistible. Shortly after this 
the usurper begins to lay her eggs. Her species, 
which is essentially parasitic, and never works, 



THE SECRET OF THE FORMICARY 41 

is the only one to proliferate, and substitutes 
itself for the too hospitable and too confident 
workers, whose race dies out. Misery, famine, and 
death follow; and the parasites disappear in their 
turn, the victims of a victory too complete. Have 
we here simply an action, purely and inexplicably 
imbecile, peculiar to the world of insects ? Have 
we not in our world analogous and equally inex- 
plicable aberrations? Is it not rather a curious 
and significant example of instinct, infallible in 
principle, which in over-civilized races, as in man, 
makes fatal mistakes, because intelligence, senti- 
ment, or intrigue intervene ? We shall return to 
this problem later. 



But is not our interpretation of all the fore- 
going actions too human? Is it not possible that 
the caress of the antennae provokes a mere reflex, 
analogous to the erotic reflex, involuntary and 
irresistible? It may be so; but if we were to 
interpret the majority of our own actions in the 
same fashion we should come to the same con- 
clusions. Do not let us go too far in our dread of 
anthropomorphism; for if we do, all will become 
purely mechanical and chemical, and there will be 
no room for life properly so called; and life is 
"always unexpectedly giving the lie to the most 
confident determinism. Notably, in more than one 
instance the ant solicited repulses the caress, 



42 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

deliberately and obviously, expelling and maltreat- 
ing the intrusive suppliant. Do not let us too 
hastily declare that there is nothing here but 
incoherence, stupidity, and automatism. If we 
were to argue on these lines, what would remain 
of the majority of our own actions, and of our 
virtues? Whatever their interpretation, the facts 
recorded are exact, and are confirmed by all those 
myrmecologists who have studied them; and for 
that matter, anyone who desires to do so may 
verify them, since the study of the ants, which 
are abundant everywhere, on the surface of the 
soil and even in our houses, is very much easier 
than that of the termites, 



For the moment, it is interesting to note that 
the three insects whose civilization is vastly 
superior to that of all others possess a social or 
collective organ, which, if not identical, performs 
analogous functions. Thus, it is by regurgitation 
stomachal in this case that the bees nourish 
their nymphs and their queens. For that matter, 
all the honey of the hive is merely a regurgitated 
nectar. In the termites the altruistic organ is 
sometimes the stomach, and more often the 
abdomen. Is there some relation between the 
more or less complete altruism of this organ and 
the degree of civilization attained by the three 
insects ? I do not know, but if I had to compare 



THE SECRET OF THE FORMICARY 43 

them I should place the ant in the first rank, and 
then the termite, and lastly, despite the prestige 
of its vivid life, its marvellous skill, its wax, and 
its honey, our domestic bee. 

Let us suppose for a moment that we possessed 
a more or less analogous organ. What would 
humanity be had it no other care, no other ideal, 
no other aim in life than selfless giving and the 
happiness of others; if to work solely for one's 
neighbour, to sacrifice oneself permanently and 
wholly, were the only possible joy, the essential 
felicity, in a word, the supreme bliss, of which 
we perceive only a fugitive gleam in the arms of 
love ? 

Unhappily we are so made that the very contrary 
of this is true. Man is the only social animal to 
possess no social organ. Is this the reason why 
his socialism and communism are precarious and 
artificial ? It is impossible for us to live otherwise 
than centripetally, whereas the ants are naturally 
centrifugal. The pivots of our lives turn in con- 
trary directions. With us all is necessarily, 
organically, inevitably egoistic. By giving we 
exceed the law of our being; we betray ourselves, 
by an effort which makes us emerge from our 
proper state, and which we call an act of virtue. 
In the ant all is otherwise: it is in sacrificing 
herself, in lavishing herself that she follows her 
natural bent; it is in refusal that she conquers 
herself and transgresses her instinctive altruism. 
The poles of the two moralities are inverted. 



44 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

We too possess an altruistic organ; but on a 
different plane. This organ is in our mind, and 
sometimes in our heart; but since it is not physical 
it is without efficacy. Will the function, will the 
moral spiritual urge end, as the transformists 
believe, by creating the material organ ? It is not 
impossible, Nature, with the complicity of the 
centuries or the millennia, may be capable of 
miracles for which we dare hardly hope. Never- 
theless, it must be confessed that to-day the 
miracle seems less imminent than of old; that 
many periods have been more generous than our 
own. The religions were, so to speak, the rough 
sketch, the rudiments of an altruistic and collective 
organ, which promised, in another world, the 
joys which the ant experiences by giving herself 
in this world. We are now in the act of extirpating 
them, and nothing is left us but the egoistic and 
individual organ of the mind, which may one day 
surpass itself and shatter the circle that confines it; 
but God alone knows when. 

We must not, however, forget that even in the 
ants this universal charity, this perpetual com- 
munion, does not prevent wars: though the wars 
of the ants are less frequent and less cruel than is 
generally believed. 



CHAPTER III 

THE FOUNDING OF THE 
COMMUNITY 



GOVERNMENT and order, in the formicary, are 
better balanced and more stable than in the hive, 
which is subject, every year, and often more than 
once in the year, to dynastic or matrimonial 
troubles which imperil its prosperity and its 
future. In the termitary, on the other hand, the 
celebration of nuptials, in which the males perish 
by thousands, is extremely onerous to the com- 
munity, and often opens the gates of the city to 
the enemy. 

In the world of the ants the nuptial flights, 
in which the males encounter the females and 
fertilize them once for all, are accompanied by 
less ostentation, and are more economical, As 
befits the humble livery of the insects, they recall a 
modest country wedding. Nevertheless, as they 
are very often held on the same day, in order to 
favour cross-fertilization, by all the formicaries 
of the district, they give rise to a certain effer- 
vescence in the atmosphere, and above all on the 
surface of the ants' nests. There the workers, 
uneasy and excited, lead from the nest those 



46 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

females who are about to fulfil their perilous duty, 
accompanying them as far as they can, as though 
to encourage them or bid them farewell , for they 
will never see them again. For the ants, as for 
the termites, love almost always wears the face of 
death. Not one of the males will survive, and of 
a thousand virgins who soar heavenwards only 
two or three at most will fulfil their destiny, and 
know the miseries which we shall presently 
describe. 

For the rest, a provident and well-organized 
police watches the entrances of the nest and its 
immediate surroundings, and this police does not 
permit all the females to take the flight from which 
none returns. The community must not be wholly 
deprived of young mothers and robbed of its 
future. The warders retain by force such females 
as they find on the dome of the colony, clinging 
to their legs, tearing off their wings, and leading 
them back to the depths of the nest, where they 
will remain as prisoners to the end of their lives. 
But how are they chosen? Who counts them 
and proportions their number to the importance 
and the needs of the republic ? We do not know. 



I shall not attempt to improve on Reaumur's 
description of these humble nuptial dramas, which 
he was the first to record. Here is the picture 
which he gave of his discovery: which, by the 



THE FOUNDING OF THE COMMUNITY 47 

way, attracted no attention, since it remained 
buried in a manuscript which has but recently been 
published in America. 

" While travelling to Poitou I found myself on 
the embankment of the Loire, not far from Tours, 
on a day early in the month of September 1731. 
I alighted from my coach, being tempted to walk 
by the beauty of the neighbourhood, and by a 
temperate breeze, most agreeable after the heat 
which had persisted during the earlier part of 
the day. The sun was within an hour of reaching 
the horizon. In the course of my walk I saw a 
great number of little heaps of sandy and earthy 
particles, raised above the orifices which led the 
ants to their underground dwellings. Many of 
these ants were at that time outside their nests; 
they were red, or rather rust-coloured, and of 
middling size. I stopped to examine several of 
these little mounds of earth, and I noted on each 
of them, amidst the wingless ants, some winged 
ants of two very different sizes; some were no 
larger in body than the wingless ants, while to 
judge merely from the look of them one of the 
others must have weighed as much as two or 
three of the latter. On this beautiful embankment, 
where I found it so pleasant to walk, there 
appeared in the air, at inconsiderable intervals, 
little clouds of large midges, flying very quickly, 
and eddying round and round, and which one 
might have guessed to be gnats, or crane-flies, or 
some kind of papilionaceous midge. Often the 



48 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

little cloud remained in the air at such a height 
that a hand could reach it. With one of my own I 
caught some of these flies, and I did this on a 
number of different occasions. All the insects 
which I thus captured were readily recognized 
for what they were: they were winged ants, like 
those which I had found at every step on the little 
mounds of earth. But a point which was as easily 
remarked as it was essential was that I almost 
always caught them in pairs. Not only did I almost 
always find a large ant and a small one in my hand, 
but I most frequently found them joined together, 
and I held them for some time without their 
separating. The small ant was lying on the large 
one, just as in the pairing of common flies the 
male lies on the female. The posterior of the small 
ant was recurved in order to press against that of 
the female, and it adhered to the latter so firmly 
that it was necessary to employ force in order to 
separate them. The body of the little male was 
barely half the length of that of the female, so 
that it was able to cover only the posterior portion 
of the female's body. I squeezed the bodies of 
several of the large ants, and this caused clusters 
of eggs to emerge from them." 

3 

Each female has five or six mates, whom she 
often carries off with her in her flight, and who 
wait their turn; after which, falling to the ground, 



THE FOUNDING OF THE COMMUNITY 49 

they perish in a few hours' time. The fertilized 
female alights, seeks shelter in the grass, discards 
her four wings, which fall at her feet like a wedding- 
gown at the close of the feast, brushes her corse- 
let, and proceeds to excavate the soil in order to 
cloister herself in an underground chamber, and 
there attempt to found a new colony. 

The foundation of this colony, which fre- 
quently ends in disaster, is one of the most 
pathetic and heroic episodes of insect life. 

The ant who will perhaps be the mother of 
an innumerable population buries herself in the 
ground and there makes for herself a narrow 
prison. She has no other food than that which she 
carries in her body, that is, in the social crop 
a little store of honey-dew- her tissues, and her 
muscles, and above all the powerful muscles of 
her sacrificed wings, which will be entirely reab- 
sorbed. Nothing enters her tomb save a little 
moisture, pluvial in origin, and, it may be, certain 
mysterious effluvia of which we do not as yet 
know the nature. Patiently she awaits the accom- 
plishment of her secret task. At last a few eggs 
are spread about her. Presently a larva emerges 
from one of these eggs; it spins its cocoon; other 
eggs are added to the first; two or three larvae 
emerge. Who feeds them? It can only be the 
mother, since the cell is impervious to everything 
but a little moisture. Now she has been buried for 
five or six months; she can do no more, for she is 
nothing but a skeleton. Then the horrible tragedy 



5 o THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

begins. On the point of death a death which 
would at one blow destroy the future which she 
has been preparing she resolves to eat one or 
two of her eggs, which will give her strength 
to lay three or four more; or she resigns herself 
to devouring one of the larvae, which will enable 
her, thanks to the imponderable aliments whose 
nature is unknown to us, to rear and nourish two 
more; and so, from infanticide to parturition, 
from parturition to infanticide, taking three steps 
forward and falling two back, yet steadily gaining 
on death, the funereal drama unfolds itself for 
close upon a year, until two or three little workers 
emerge, weakly because ill-nourished, from the 
egg, who pierce the walls of the In Pace, or rather 
the In Dolore, and seek, in the outer world, their 
first victuals, which they carry to their mother. 
From this moment she has no more cares, no more 
troubles, but night and day, until her death, does 
nothing but lay her eggs. The heroic days are 
gone; abundance and prosperity replace the long 
famine; the prison expands and becomes a city, 
which spreads underground year after year; and 
Nature, having here played out one of her cruel- 
lest and most inexplicable games, goes farther 
afield, and repeats the same experiments, whose 
morality and utility are as yet beyond our under- 
standing. 

This mode of genesis suggests an observation 
regarding heredity and innate ideas which is not 
without interest. Here is a female, who before the 



THE FOUNDING OF THE COMMUNITY 51 

nuptial flight had never ventured into the outer 
world and had never taken part in the labours of 
the formicary. From one day to the next she is 
immured in her impenetrable tomb, and there 
she knows all the trades of her species without 
ever having learned them. She digs the soil, 
excavates cells, feeds her larvse, opens the cocoons 
of her nymphs; in short, though equipped with 
tools far less perfect than those of the workers, 
she succeeds in doing all that they do. Does it 
not seem, as I have already suggested, that the 
diffused and collective soul of the community 
decrees that each of its constituent cells shall 
manifest it completely, even when separated from 
it, and continue the life of the community in 
time and space as though it were the life of a 
single being, which knows all things, and will 
die only when the earth itself shall die ? 



We have just been considering the proper and 
normal birth of a colony. As usual, Huber was the 
first to study and describe the process. His obser- 
vations were completed by Lubbock, 1 Me Cook, 
and Blechmann (for the red ants and the tropi- 
cal Camponotus), Janet (for Lasius\ Pieron (for 
the Mes$ores\ Forel (for Camponotus ligniperdus\ 
Simpel (for Lasius fl&vu$\ etc. Anyone may repeat 

1 M. Maeterlinck refers throughout to Sir John Lubbock, the 
name by which Lord Avebury is best known to foreign naturalists- 



52 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

and control these experiments. It is enough if 
one summer night, when they are swarming 
everywhere, even entering our houses, we collect 
a few females, which are easily recognized being 
very much larger than the males, and cloister 
them in a box full of earth, which must be kept 
moderately moist. I must warn you, however, that a 
good many "of such experiments will be wasted; 
in the first place, because it often happens that 
the female is a virgin ; and still more often because 
the experimenter is not sufficiently patient and 
careful. 

I need hardly add that owing to the extra- 
ordinary physical and moral polymorphism of our 
heroines, and their prodigious powers of adapting 
themselves to the most unusual circumstances, a 
community may be founded in many different 
ways. The Raftiformic# and their kindred, for 
example, found their communities by simply ex- 
pelling from its nest a tribe of Servijormicafusca. 
In some cases ants of two or three different races 
unite and pool their resources; others have 
recourse to adoption, to alliance, forced or 
voluntary, or to shameless or clandestine para- 
sitism. A somewhat ingenious parasitism is that 
practised by Harpagonems subkvis^ which has 
ergatogyne females that is, females who resemble 
workers. These ergatogynes, heavily armoured 
with invulnerable chitin, force their way into the 
nest of a pacific species and drive out the inhabi- 
tants, whose larvae and nymphs they rear, in 



THE FOUNDING OF THE COMMUNITY 53 

order that they may act as nurses to their as yet 
unborn young. 

One fertilized female, the Car el ar a vidua^ 
belonging to a celebrated South African race, 
has solved the critical problem in a very neat 
fashion. This queen, far from resembling her 
workers, exceeds them three or four thousand times 
in volume. Equipped with magnificent wings, she is 
like the Victory of Samothrace, as we see her in the 
Louvre, beside a host of ivory statuettes. It is in- 
conceivable that offspring so dissimilar should 
issue from almost similar eggs. Here we have the 
mystery of a polymorphism which seems to be 
chiefly due, like that of the bee, to the alimentary 
regime. 

However this may be, she could no more rear 
her Lilliputian children than an ostrich could 
hatch and rear a brood of humming-birds. For this 
reason, on her nuptial flight she carries, clinging 
to the hairs of her legs, a dozen blind workers, 
who will undertake all the necessary domestic 
tasks, and tend the eggs, larvae, and nymphs. 
Who selects them, and what decides them to 
risk the tragic adventure? Once more, we find 
ourselves in a world of mystery and monstrosity 
exceeding that of our most extravagant nightmares. 
But while noting these fantastic anomalies, these 
disconcerting errors, these bewildering insanities 
of Nature, must we not marvel at the ingen- 
uity with which their victims strive to redeem 
them? 



54. THE LIFE OF THE ANT 



Since I have spoken of eggs, larvae, and nymphs, 
let me briefly elucidate the subject. 

If on a fine summer day we remove the top of 
an ant-hill, we see, under the sand or pine-needles, 
a multitude of tiny objects like grains of wheat 
or rice, which are commonly taken to be eggs. 
They are nothing of the kind. The eggs, which 
are very minute, almost always escape our notice. 
What we now see this moving heap of grain, 
which immediately swarms with excited workers 
consists of the larvae which emerge from the 
almost invisible eggs. They are not unlike Egyp- 
tian mummies in their coffins of sycamore, with 
gilded masks; or like prematurely old, sardoni- 
cally frowning children as though Nature had 
hesitated between the homunculus and the insect 
carefully hooded and swathed in swaddling-bands, 
and provided with pendent teats. They are some- 
times naked, and merely, so to speak, withdrawn 
into themselves, and sometimes enveloped in a 
cocoon, within which the metamorphosis into the 
nymph is accomplished; and .the nymph, in turn, 
either remains naked or weaves itself a cocoon, 
from which, by its own efforts or with the assistance 
of the workers, the perfect insect emerges, male, 
female, or neuter, according to the decision 
made by whom we know not when it was 
still in the egg or in the larval state. Merely in 
respect of longevity the fate of these three 'insects 



THE FOUNDING OF THE COMMUNITY 55 

is very different. The males all perish after the 
nuptial flight. The workers, exposed to the count- 
less perils of the outer world, and worn out by 
their labours, rarely live longer than five or six 
years; whereas it has been demonstrated that in 
artificial ants' nests, the only kind of nests which 
it is possible to observe seriously and continuously, 
a fertilized female may live more than fifteen 
years. But the problem of predestination, which 
in the bee is conditioned by the cell and the diet 
of the larva, and in the termite by the diet alone, 
is not as yet definitely solved in the case of the ant 

Who controls this predestination? Who foresees 
or calculates how many workers, fertilized females, 
and males are essential to prosperity? Who cal- 
culates the ratios of these numbers, determines 
them, and establishes a mutual harmony between 
them? As to this, we know nothing; just as we 
do not know, and it may be shall never know, 
what guides the stars and controls their move- 
ments in the heavens; for the mystery, whether it 
resides in the infinitely great or in the infinitesi- 
mally small, is precisely the same mystery. 

One final problem remains: how, in the 
populous colonies which endure sometimes for 
half a century, and contain as many as two or 
three millions of inhabitants, are the fertilized 
females recruited? These "polycalic" colonies or 
confederate nests need a certain number of 
prolific females to maintain their population. 

Each species solves the difficulty in its own 



56 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

fashion. Sometimes, after the nuptial flight, instead 
of founding a community, the female returns to 
her native nest. She is received with more or less 
eagerness, according to the demands and com- 
putations of the collective instinct. Sometimes 
the workers assemble, before the entrances of the 
nest, as many fertilized females as they judge to 
be necessary to the future of the colony, deprive 
them of their wings, and force them to re-enter 
their home. Sometimes they go forth in search of 
a stranger of their own race or of some assimilable 
family, or they adopt a traveller who may chance 
to present herself; at other times, and indeed 
rather frequently, the union of brother and sister, 
or adelphogamy, as the entomologists call it, is 
accomplished in the nest itself; for our humble 
heroines find it easier than we do to modify, in 
case of need, their fundamental laws, or even to 
reverse them, adapting themselves to circum- 
stances, and turning these to account. 



CHAPTER IV 

THE NEST 

i 

THE ants' dwelling has not the amber-hued and 
perfumed splendour of the palace of the bees, 
nor yet the formidable vastness and granitic 
solidity of the citadel of the termites. In order to 
compare these three orders of architecture, and 
to appreciate the happenings in these strange 
dwellings, we should have to enlarge them to our 
human scale. We should then perceive that in the 
hive a bewildering geometry prevails, sumptuous, 
decorative, and innumerous, which would seem to 
us infinitely more selenitic than terrestrial. In the 
termitary we should see the monstrous triumph 
of reinforced concrete and the perpendicular 
style, exemplified in a mountain of stone two 
thousand feet in height and perforated like a 
sponge. Lastly, in the ants' nest we should find 
the horizontal style predominant, with innumerable 
and apparently aimless meanderings, an endless ex- 
tent of catacomb cities, from which none of us, were 
they built upon our scale, would ever emerge alive. 
The architecture of the ants is as various as 
their bodies and their habits. One might even say 
that there are as many kinds of formicaries as 



58 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

there are species of ant; but all may be referred to 
four or five principal types. 

Nine times out of ten the nest is subterranean, 
hollowed out in the sand or loamy earth, which is 
pierced by galleries with countless ramifications. 
It often contains as many as twenty stories in its 
upper portion, and at least as many beneath the 
surface of the soil. Each story has its own 
purpose, which is determined mainly by the 
temperature, the warmer portions of the nest 
being reserved for rearing the young. But I need 
not linger over these details, which are familiar 
to everyone, since everyone has at one time or 
another opened or overturned an ant-hill. The 
entrance is sometimes carefully concealed, and 
sometimes frankly obvious and even ostentatious, 
in the form of a crater, or surmounted by a dome; 
this dome is commonly the principal portion of 
the ant-hill, as in the mounds of pine-needles or 
other vegetable debris built, in particular, by our 
red ants, our Pratenses and Sanguine*. Certain 
incubating domes (which may be compared to our 
own artificial incubators) of the Formica rufa^ so 
common in our pine woods, attain a height of 
six feet, and are as much as thirty feet in diameter 
at the base. It may be noted, by the way, that the 
temperature in the interior of these domes is 
always ten degrees (Centigrade) higher than that 
of the outer atmosphere. 

The distribution of the galleries, granaries, 
Storehouses, communal halls, and rearing-cham- 



THE NEST 59 

bers to which we must add, in the case of certain 
species, mushroom nurseries, stables, and cellars 
is extremely variable, and even in two neigh- 
bouring colonies of the same race and of equal 
importance, it only approximately follows a 
general plan, which is constantly modified in 
accordance with the circumstances. Thus in one 
nest of Lasius you will find all the eggs carefully 
arranged near the summit; then, in a second 
chamber, the larvae, classed in order of their 
size; and then, below these, in a third chamber, 
the cocoons ; whereas in another nest of the same 
ant everything is higgledy-piggledy, and appar- 
ently left to chance; which proves once more 
that the collective instinct of the ant-hill, like the 
collective instinct of the cells of our body which 
in us determines the health or sickness of the 
body, is in certain respects almost as variable 
as the individual intelligence, which it often re- 
sembles in a very singular degree. 

It should be noted, en passant, that the familiar 
Formica lasius orientates the domes in which her 
eggs are matured and her nymphs are formed in 
such a way as to capture as much heat as possible, 
and suppresses it entirely, because unnecessary, in 
sub-tropical countries. 



Subterranean nests are generally from twelve 
to sixteen inches in depth, but sometimes, and 



60 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

notably in the case of the Harvester ants, they 
descend to a depth of five feet or more in the 
sand which contains their granaries, while on 
the surface there is a group of seven or 
eight intercommunicating craters, so that the 
whole of the nests form a single colony, 
which covers an area of fifty to a hundred square 
yards or more. But we shall return later on to 
these Harvester ants, and also to the fungus- 
eating ants, the Weaver ants, and the pastoral 
species. 

As for the definitely polycalic or confederated 
colonies, such as the colony of Formica exsecta 
which Forel found in the Jura, they often include 
as many as two hundred nests, each of which 
may contain from five thousand to five hundred 
thousand inhabitants, and they may occupy a 
circular area whose radius is two hundred yards 
or more. Dr. McCook, a distinguished and 
highly conscientious observer, tells us of an 
enormous city of Formica exsecto'ides in Pennsyl- 
vania which covered an area of fifty acres, and 
consisted of sixteen hundred nests, many of which 
measured nearly three feet in height and twelve 
feet in circumference at the base. Comparing its 
volume with the dimensions of the insect, McCook 
calculated that it was relatively eighty-four times 
the size of the Great Pyramid. That is to say that 
London and New York, compared with these 
huge agglomerations enlarged to our human 
scale, would be no more than villages. But the 



THE NEST 6 1 

organization of these great colonies is not as yet 
fully understood. 



In these dark dwellings for the ant, like the 
bee and the termite, is a lover of darkness the 
whole life of the queens is passed, and a great 
part of the workers' life. The days and nights 
alike for during the summer, at all events, the 
ants are never idle are devoted to "the tedious 
and compliant labours" of the household clean- 
ing the nest and preparing food, since the vege- 
tables, grains, fruits, and game brought in have 
to be transformed into mincemeat, or paste, or 
broth. Then there are the continual regurgita- 
tions, an inexhaustible source of mutual delight; 
the upkeep of the public ways within and without 
the nest; the highly exacting care of the mothers, 
who have to be escorted, guided, guarded assi- 
duously, and plentifully fed, washed, brushed, 
and caressed; the attentions of every kind lavished 
on the eggs, which have to be constantly and 
diligently licked, in order to nourish them by 
endosmosis, and on the larvae and nymphs, which 
have to be turned and re-turned, and moved 
from place to place, and exposed, at the proper 
hours, in favourable positions. Then there is the 
personal toilet, since the ant has a perfect mania 
for cleanliness, and with the assistance of her 
companions she combs and rubs and polishes 



62 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

herself twenty times a day. Lastly, there are 
games, friendly contests, duels, and conflicts 
of a sportive and harmless nature; these were 
described by Huber, whose observations were at 
first treated as imaginary, but they have since 
been confirmed by Forel, Stumper, and Stager. 

In order that you may once again listen to the 
quiet, rich, and venerable voice of the father of 
myrmecology, I will give myself the pleasure of 
quoting the page which Huber has devoted to 
this subject: 

"One day I approached some of their ant-hills, 
which were exposed to the sun, and sheltered 
from the North. The ants were assembled together 
in great numbers, and seemed to be enjoying the 
temperature which prevailed on the surface of 
their nests. None were working ; and this multitude 
of assembled insects presented the appearance of 
a liquid in ebullition, on which the eyes had at 
first some difficulty in getting a purchase. But 
when I applied myself to following each ant 
separately, I saw them approach one another, 
waving their antennas with astonishing rapidity: 
with their fore-feet they lightly stroked the sides 
of the heads of other ants; and after these pre- 
liminary gestures, which were like caresses, they 
reared up on their hind-legs, two by two, and 
wrestled with one another, seizing a mandible, a 
leg, or antenna, and relinquishing it immediately, 
to return to the attack; clinging to one another's 
corselet or abdomen, embracing one another, 



THE NEST 63 

overturning one another, falling and scrambling 
up again, and revenging themselves for their 
defeat without appearing to inflict any injury: 
they did not eject their venom, as they do in their 
battles, and they did not grip their adversaries 
with the tenacity to be observed in their serious 
quarrels; they soon released the ants which they 
had seized, and tried to catch others; I saw some 
which were so ardent in their exercises that 
they pursued several workers in succession, and 
wrestled with them for a few moments, and the 
duel was concluded only when the less lively ant, 
having overthrown her antagonist, succeeded in 
escaping, hiding herself in some gallery. I often 
returned to this ant-hill, which almost always 
offered me the same spectacle; sometimes this 
mood was general; on every hand there were 
groups of ants struggling together, and I never 
saw any of them emerge from the combat wounded 
or mutilated." 



4 

And lastly, incredible though it may seem, 
there is rest. We are really inclined to believe 
that the ant, whose activity seems to us so frantic, 
for she is flitting about> by day and by night, 
like a spark in a burnt haystack, must necessarily 
be totally ignorant of fatigue. Nevertheless, she 
is subject to the great law of terrestrial life; she 
finds it necessary sometimes to withdraw into 



64. THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

herself, to recuperate her energies, and forget life. 
When, after a long adventure, burdened with 
booty three or four times her own weight, she 
returns to the nest, her companions who guard 
the entries hasten to meet her, and, first of all 
demanding the regurgitation with which every 
notable event in the formic world begins and 
ends, they then cleanse her of the dust that 
covers her, brushing and caressing her, and lead 
her to a sort of sleeping-chamber, far from 
the tumult of the crowd, which is reserved for 
exhausted travellers. There she soon sinks into a 
slumber so profound that even an attack upon the 
nest, which rouses all the inmates down to the 
very invalids, will only half awaken her; and 
then, instead of fighting, she will seek only 
to escape. 



From the citizens of the subsoil let us pass on 
to the arboreal ants. Some of them live in the 
interior of trees, which they pierce and excavate 
and hollow out as do the termites, taking care to 
leave the bark intact. They carve out their dwel- 
lings in the wood, superimposing a number of 
stories, "whose ceilings," as Huber says, "as 
thin as a playing-card, are supported now by 
vertical partitions, which form an infinite number 
of chambers, and now by a multitude of small, 
rather slender pillars, between which one can see 



THE NEST 65 

almost the whole depth of the story; all in black, 
smoky-looking wood." 

If we extricate one of these nests we have the 
impression that we are handling some unfamiliar 
and complex work of art, full of minutely wrought 
detail, uncouth and bewildering; like nothing else 
on earth, but approximately resembling certain 
prehistoric bones, which thousands of centuries 
have carved and honeycombed. 

The maker of these nests, Lasius Juliginosus so 
called because the wood which has been worked 
by it has the colour of smoke sometimes forms 
enormous confederate colonies, whose innumer- 
able population may occupy eight or ten tree- 
trunks, though it seems to be obedient to the 
same laws, the same central impulses. 

Other ants, inhabitants of the tropics, affix 
their nests, which are often of enormous size, in 
the crutch of large boughs, where these bulky 
excrescences approximate in colour to the bark of 
the tree. They are built of a sort of paper, like 
that which is made by our wasps. 

Then there are ants which make their nests 
either in natural cavities adapted to the insects* 
requirements or in the hollow stems of certain 
plants, which sometimes provide small colonies 
with both food and shelter, as happens in the 
world of fairy-tales; and there are ants with 
nomadic nests, who live, so to speak, in tents, 
contenting themselves, on their incessant expedi- 
tions, with any provisional shelter that offers in 



66 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

which they can harbour their larvae, and nymphs 
for the night. Lastly, we must not forget the 
nests woven by the Weaver ants, which in the 
world of ants, and perhaps in the animal world 
as a whole, occupy the summit of the intellectual 
hierarchy. But of these we shall speak at greater 
length in the chapter which will be devoted to 
them, for they are deserving of more than a mere 
mention. 



It goes without saying that in the case of all 
these dark and jealously sealed nests it is almost 
impossible to make effective observations; for 
which reason the myrmecologists have devised 
as the apiculturists did before them various 
kinds of apparatus which enable them to follow, 
from hour to hour, and without perceptibly dis- 
turbing it, the normal life of the ants which they 
wish to study. Swammerdam, in his u Biblia 
Naturae," published in 1737, described the first 
artificial nest of which we have any mention. He 
simply placed the captured ants in a plate con- 
taining some friable soil, and surrounded by a 
trench of wax filled with water. 

Huber, who could not have known of Rau- 
mur's ' 'pounce-boxes, " since Reaumur wrote 
fifty years later, prepared a small table, the top 
of which was provided with a longitudinal slit, 
and fixed beneath it a glass box, enclosed in 



THE NEST 67 

wooden shutters for the ants, like the bees, 
work only in darkness and covered the whole 
with a glass bell-shade, so that the insects were 
able to build the upper stories of their nest on 
the surface of the table. 

Since then better devices have been invented. 
Forel, Lubbock, Wasmann, Miss Adle Fielde, 
Charles Janet, Wheeler, Santschi, Brun, Meldah, 
and Kutter improved the original apparatus, 
adapting it to the kind of ant under observation. 
We have all seen the plaster nests of Charles Janet 
in the public exhibitions. They are highly practical, 
but are suitable mainly for the smaller species. 

These plaster nests, which reproduce as faith- 
fully as possible the arrangement and the meander- 
ings of a natural formicary, permit us, in parti- 
cular, to note the spirit of organization and 
adaptation displayed by the ants in circumstances 
of a wholly abnormal and unexpected character; 
and above all, the meticulous cleanliness which 
they maintain in their nests. For example, in a 
Janet nest which was inhabited by a small colony 
of Solenopsis fugaX) and which consisted of thirty- 
three chambers, fourteen were reserved for 
nymphs which were nearly mature, one con- 
tained, on one side, nymphs in a less advanced 
stage and small larvse, seven contained larvse of 
medium size, five were filled with the enormous 
larvae of the winged Solenopsis^ one chamber was 
occupied by the queen, four were left unoccupied, 
and one single chamber, in the driest portion of 



68 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

the nest, and the farthest from .the entrance, 
served as the refuse-dump or cloaca; here the 
workers shot their refuse, including the sacs 
which the larvas discard at the beginning of their 
nymphosis, and which contain the residue of the 
food consumed since hatching. Other nests of 
larger dimensions contain two or three cloaca, 
and since the excrement of ants is always liquid, 
the special tint assumed by the plaster of one of 
these retreats plainly betrays its exclusive func- 
tion. Thus, in their prison, having no com- 
munication with the outer world, they improvise 
sanitary arrangements which our human engineers 
could hardly better under such difficult circum- 
stances. 

The least complicated form of apparatus, and 
the most convenient for elementary observations, 
is that employed by Lubbock. It consists of two 
glass plates, some 8 or 12 inches square, separated 
by an interval of an eighth to a quarter of an 
inch, according to the species under observation 
that is, an interval just large enough to permit 
the ants to move about freely. These plates are 
enclosed in a wooden frame; the interval is filled 
with finely divided earth, which is slightly moist- 
ened, and the whole is covered, since the social 
insects are accustomed to live in darkness. A 
number of these nests may be arranged on a 
single support, care being taken to surround this 
with water, or better still with finely powdered 
plaster, in order to prevent escape. 



THE NEST 69 

Thanks to such apparatus, the secrets of the 
formicary have been discovered; or, at all events, 
most of its material secrets. As for the rest 
the political, economic, psychological, and moral 
secrets we are still very far from deciphering 
them. 



CHAPTER V 

WARFARE 



THE ants, alone among the insects, have or- 
ganized armies and undertake offensive wars. 
The termites have their soldiers, but these 
soldiers never attack. They are employed exclu- 
sively in the defence of the termitary, or in pro- 
tecting the unarmed workers when they forage 
in the neighbourhood of the fortress, Among the 
bees likewise, aggression, properly speaking, is 
unknown. Sometimes, it is true, an enfeebled or 
disorganized hive, or one whose honey has 
poured or oozed away, owing to a broken comb, 
or to some internal catastrophe, may excite the 
cupidity of its neighbours and tempt them to 
pillage. Then, indeed, there are more or less 
violent affrays between the defenders and the 
thieves; but these are accidental brawls rather 
than actual battles. Apart from such exceptional 
instances, an absolute respect for life and property 
prevails in the world of the bees. 

This is by no means the case in the world of 
the ants. Generally speaking, ants are pacific. 
But the very form of their more refined civiliza- 
tion almost irresistibly incites the more intelligent 



WARFARE 71 

species to mate war upon less bellicose and more 
docile races, association or alliance with which 
has become almost indispensable to them. In 
this they are strangely like the highest human 
civilizations; as though the morality of the world, 
of Nature, of Providence, or of the spirit of the 
universe, had decreed that such things should be 
in default of a better dispensation, 



For the rest, the physical and moral poly- 
morphism of the ants is infinitely more extensive 
and more varied than that of the termites, the 
bees, and human beings. From the most primitive 
of the ants, the Pottering) which are directly 
descended from the unknown proto-ant of the 
first geological ages, and whose activities are still 
individual, to the most advanced species the 
fungus-growing ants, the slave-owning ants, and 
the Weaver ants; from the most inoffensive and 
pacific species, which never defend themselves 
(Formicoxenus and Myrmecina\ to the most valiant 
(Polyergus rufescens^ Dorylin^e^ and Edtini) which 
never retreat, there are many more stages of 
development, many more transitions, than between 
the most brutish of our Polynesians or Tierra del 
Fuegans and the great white nations which lead 
the human species. Form, size, and colour differ 
as greatly as habits and intelligence. For example, 
Polyrkachis affendiculata of Australia, whose 



72 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

thorax consists of two plates like flattened nuts, 
surmounted by a great button of jet, and ter- 
minating in a heavy amber-coloured capsule, 
set beside Orectognathus sexspinosus of the same 
continent, which has a head like a horse's set 
above a laminated, spiny corselet, into which is 
inserted a long, thread-like tube, which terminates 
in a transparent pear, seem as mutually alien as 
the hippopotamus and the grasshopper; while ' 
Tetramorium Ceespitum^ which dares to attack 
Formica pratensis, is like a polecat assailing an 
elephant. 

It is natural that the weapons of the ants should 
differ as greatly as their bodies. As offensive 
weapons all the ants possess mandibles, whose 
aspect, always rather monstrous, is excessively 
varied. They form pincers or shears, some short 
and curved like a dentist's forceps, others long 
as reaping-hooks, ending sometimes in a sharp 
point which is capable of instantly piercing an 
enemy skull. There are some whose twin-toothed 
cutting-edges enable the ant to saw through the 
neck, legs, or thorax of the adversary; while 
others possess two pairs of imbricated jaws. 
There are species which are provided, in addition 
to the mandibles, with a sting and a poison-bag 
comparable to those of the bees; but this weapon 
is tending to atrophy. It is generally replaced 
by an anal pouch, a sort of vaporizer, capable 
of projecting to a certain distance a cloud of 
poisonous drops which paralyse or lime the 



WARFARE 73 

antagonist. They seem, however, reluctant to 
use this weapon, which they employ only in cases 
of urgency and in serious engagements; perhaps 
because they do not desire the death of the 
enemy, or because they fear that the use of this 
light artillery may possibly recoil upon them- 
selves; for they are often poisoned by their own 
venom. 



It is equally natural that the warlike habits of 
the ants should vary as greatly as their bodies 
and their weapons. Every kind of warfare known 
to ourselves will be found in the world of the 
ants; open warfare, overwhelming assaults, levies 
en masse, wars of ambush and surprise and sur- 
reptitious infiltration, implacable wars of exter- 
mination, incoherent and nerveless campaigns, 
sieges and investments as wisely ordered as our 
own, magnificent defences, furious assaults, des- 
perate sorties, bewildered retreats, strategic with- 
drawals, and sometimes, though very rarely, 
brawls between allies, and so forth. We will not 
attempt to enumerate all the forms of warfare 
practised by the ants : too meticulous a description 
would be tedious, and would be more proper to 
the technical monographs, where the reader may 
readily find it. But from this inextricable tangle a 
few general laws emerge which give a particular 
character to their hostilities, 



74 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

To begin with, contrary to the assertion of a 
legend as hoary as that of their egoism, the 
majority of species, as I have already stated, are 
resolutely pacific; which does not prevent them, 
when they are attacked, from displaying in the 
defence of their community a courage which is 
almost always superior to that of our most heroic 
troops. They rarely take account of the number 
or size of their assailants. For that matter, in the face 
of their threatening attitude the aggressor often 
abandons his designs, or after the shock of the 
first encounter beats an unashamed retreat. 

However powerful and well-armed and for- 
midable they may be, these pacific species com- 
monly respect the property of others, do not 
abuse their strength, avoid all occasion and cause 
of conflict, and concern themselves discreetly 
and exclusively with the affairs of their own 
formicary. Neomyrma rulida^ for example, the 
most terrible of European ants, equipped with a 
deadly sting, is never known to attack other 
colonies. 



4 

Unfortunately for the peace and happiness of 
the world of ants, there exist, as in "the world of 
men, a certain number of races, generally the 
wealthiest and most powerful, which have not 
the same scruples, and which, without making 
war their exclusive profession, find it perfectly 



WARFARE 75 

natural to seize that which does not belong to 
them, and, above all, by means of periodic raids, 
to carry off, before birth so to speak, the entire 
youth of a neighbouring community in order to 
reduce it to slavery. We note with regret that the 
most civilized and most intelligent species are 
likewise the most dishonest. 

Here, I ought to reproduce, as is customary, 
an account of one of those battles between ants 
which have been so conscientiously observed and 
described by Huber: for example, an expedition 
of Sanguine or Amazon ants. And indeed I could 
not do better; unfortunately, they are too long, 
and at the same time so coherent that one does 
not know, how to abridge them. I will therefore 
refer the reader to the original text, which will, I 
believe, be republished before long. 

Among these bellicose ants the Sanguine ant 
(Raftiformica sanguinea] is very common in 
Europe, and is found, as a rule, beneath hedges 
with a south aspect. Viehmer, Wasmann, Wheeler, 
and Forel have made it a subject of special 
study. The Sanguine ants undertake two or three 
slave-raids every summer. The strategical organi- 
zation and general conduct of these expeditions 
could not be bettered. Here is the description of 
such a raid as observed by Forel, whose account, 
since it is at times over-detailed and a little 
diffuse, I have taken the liberty of abridging : 

Having sent out scouts to reconnoitre the nest 
of another species in this case a nest of Glebaria 



76 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

which they proposed to pillage, they set forth 
one fine summer morning, advancing in small 
bodies, and gradually encircled their objective. 
Being alarmed, the besieged Glebari# crowded 
round the entrances, barricading them as best 
they could with grains of sand, which for them 
represented heavy blocks of stone. Then, at a 
signal as to whose origin we know nothing 
for the source of such orders is even more mys- 
terious than in the hive or the termitary the 
assailants rushed forward in a massed attack. The 
defenders attempted resistance, but being over- 
run, hustled and overthrown, they re-entered 
their nest in despair, to emerge again carrying 
their nymphs, which they were resolved to save 
at any cost, and whose number was so great that 
in a moment the colour of the mle was changed 
from tawny to white. But the aggressors tore 
their treasures from them, storing them pro- 
visionally near the entrances of the nest, allowing 
the fertile mothers and the unencumbered workers 
to pass, but, like inflexible customs officials, com- 
pelling all those who were carrying nymphs or 
larvae to lay down their burdens. Yet all this time 
they did not do the slightest harm to those who 
offered no resistance, or refrained from defending 
themselves with poison. 

Having captured a few Gklaria who had suc- 
ceeded in escaping and hiding a certain number 
of their nymphs in the grass, they seized the 
latter, and presently established, between the 



WARFARE 77 

pillaged tow-n and the victorious city to which the 
living booty was transported, a continuous line of 
workers going and coming, and in three days' 
time the invested formicary had been completely 
despoiled. 

Contrary to what one would be inclined to 
imagine, there are no massacres of the besieged 
during these raids, and very few victims are left 
on the field. The occupants of the nest are simply 
expelled, and migrate, never to return to their 
home; which, once the nymphs are removed, is 
abandoned by the conqueror and soon falls into 
disrepair. In accordance with myrmecsean prin- 
ciples, the necessary operations are accomplished 
with as little damage as possible to others. 

On the threshold of their new home the eggs, 
lame, and nymphs of the raided Gkbari* are 
received by slaves of their own race, who tend 
and feed and rear them until they too are able to 
serve in the house of the conqueror. It is thus that 
the servants are recruited in the world of the 
slave-owning ants, 



5 

As a matter of fact, their condition is not one of 
actual slavery, and Huber, more than a century 
ago, considered that the word was out of place. 
What we call slavery is rather an interested 
adoption, which before long is transformed into 
a sort of foster-maternity. But, contrary to 



78 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

reasonable expectation, it is the conquered who 
adopt their conquerors, and the latter become the 
children of their victims to such a point that in 
certain over-civilized colonies they are no longer 
capable of taking nourishment without assistance. 
These voluntary slaves are as free as their captors; 
they leave the nest when they choose, go and 
come as they please, are faithful unto death to 
their masters, and if need be fight at their side 
against the very stock from which they issued. 
This need does not occur in normal life, since the 
Glebari& are essentially pacific; but it may easily 
be evoked by artificially embroiling two rival 
colonies. It is probable that in these domestic 
relations the mysteries of regurgitation, and the 
secret joy of the giver, play a preponderant part. 
In the nests of these Sanguine ants (Rapti- 
formica sanguine^ which are found from Scandi- 
navia to Italy, and from England to Japan, 
servitude is not always organized in the same 
fashion. One nest, for example, may contain more 
slaves than masters, while another may possess 
only a few, and yet another will have none at all, 
replacing them by small workers; and lastly, 
some nests contain slaves of two species 
GUI aria and Rufibarlis who live in mutual 
amity. Forel was even able to induce an artificial 
nest of Sanguine ants to adopt and rear eight 
different species: namely, Seroiformica glebaria^ 
RufilarliS) Cinarea, Formica pratensis, Formica rufa^ 
Formica ex$ecta> Pressilabris, and Polyergus rufacens. 



WARFARE 79 

Each of thes,e species did its work after its own 
fashion : Exsecta and Glebaria were extremely indus- 
trious; Sanguinea was very skilful; Pratensis very 
clumsy, and Polyergus incorrigibly idle. Repre- 
sentatives of other races, being regarded as un- 
adaptable and useless, were promptly put to death. 
In the nests of certain slave-holding ants the 
alliance between masters and servants is even 
more singular. An ant observed by H. Kutter, 
which bears the barbarous name of Strongykgnathus 
alpiniy when undertaking an expedition against 
Tetramorium Ctespitum> sends its slaves into battle, 
and, without taking part in the conflict, contents 
itself with looking on and intimidating the 
adversary by its mere presence. On the other 
hand, Strongykgnathus and Tetramorium^ if sub- 
jected by man to abnormal conditions, although 
hereditary enemies, no longer attack one another, 
but even form an alliance. All these facts demon- 
strate the extraordinary suppleness, the ability to 
make the best of circumstances, the easy power 
of adaptation, and, in a word, the intelligence 
which animates and guides the world of ants a 
world which we have hardly begun to study, and 
of which as yet we understand but little. 



Be it noted that in all the foregoing cases 
the servitude is unconscious. Gleiaria and Rufi- 
s, which are easily conquered, are quite una- 



80 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

ware of their slavery, since they are % carried off in 
the embryo state, and have never known their 
native community. That they should adapt them- 
selves to their life is therefore natural enough. 
Of all the raptorial species, only the formidable 
Strongykgnathu$ Huberi captures adults and reduces 
them to slavery. It does not appear that the results 
of this hazardous operation are seriously unsatis- 
factory, or it would in all probability have been 
abandoned long ago. 

Nevertheless, these practices, which might be 
qualified as super-animal, have at times very 
singular consequences. Wasmann cites, amongst 
others, a case in which some Sanguine ants had 
carried off the cocoons of a small colony of 
Pratensis. After the cocoons had hatched, the 
young Praters, foraging in the neighbourhood of 
their new home, found their own mother and led 
her to the nest of their masters, in order to replace 
the Sanguine queen, who had just died; so that 
the original colony gradually became a republic 
of Pmtenses or field ants. A civilization so refined 
and complex is necessarily subject, like our own, 
to unexpected consequences. 



But the great slave-holding ant is Polyergus 
rufescenS) the Amazon ant, or Legionary ant, as 
Huber calls it. It is comparatively rare. For other 
species slavery is a luxury; for the Amazon it is 



WARFARE 8 1 

a vital necessity. The proportions of slaves and 
masters are accordingly reversed. In a Sanguine 
nest there is, generally speaking, one slave to six 
or seven masters; whereas each Amazon has six 
or seven slaves. The evolution which begins in 
the nest of the Sanguines is here perfected. The 
Amazons, by reason of their sickle-shaped man- 
dibles, are, like the soldiers of the termites, fitted 
for nothing but warfare. They cannot eat without 
assistance, for they cannot take any nourishment 
save from the mouths of their servants. They are 
as little capable of rearing their young as of 
building or repairing their nest. In the depths of 
their lair they pass their time in besotted idleness, 
rousing themselves only in order to polish their 
armour, or to pester their slaves for a mouthful 
of honey. Without their servants, these magnifi- 
cent warriors, with their bronze armour, these 
superb shock-battalions, these irresistible veterans 
of great campaigns, are as impotent, as utterly 
helpless as so many suckling infants. Into the 
midst of these helpless creatures, who would die 
of hunger though surrounded by all the wealth 
of a beehive, and who piteously demand of one 
another the regurgitation which they are powerless 
to grant, introduce, as did Huber and Forel, a 
worker, of the ancillary species, and all is changed: 
she is like a good housekeeper in a den of starving 
old bachelors. Hurrying forth she begins by 
filling her crop, in order to give food to those 
who are dying of hunger; then she assembles 



82 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

the eggs and larvae and nymphs, on which she 
lavishes the needful care, and finally she cleans 
and repairs the nest. In less than an hour the great- 
hearted little servant has completely restored 
order in the unhappy community, which has no 
means of livelihood but the profession of arms. 



For organic reasons, then, war is the sole trade 
of the Amazons, and is thus a matter of life or 
death. At any cost they must constantly recruit 
their slaves. Whatever the number and size of 
their adversaries, they attack with frenzy, never 
retreating, and aim only at the head. Their habits, 
being exclusively warlike, have resulted in a 
fixation of instinct, so that their tactics have 
neither the suppleness nor the intelligence to be 
observed in the Sanguine ants. Nor have they the 
clemency and amenity of the Sanguines, which 
recoil from inflicting a mortal wound unless 
victory can be secured by no other means. In 
order to wrest the coveted prey from a Rufibarbis 
worker, the Sanguine ant merely hustles her; the 
Amazon promptly decapitates her, and carries 
off the head still attached to the cocoon. Some- 
times, in the heat of the fray, the Amazons are 
overcome by a veritable frenzy; they run amok, 
tearing to pieces everything that falls into their 
mandibles larvae, nymphs, splinters of wood, 
their comrades in arms, and even their slaves, 



WARFARE ' 83 

when these endeavour to calm them. But the 
courage of these warriors is unequalled, and 
sixty of them will put to flight an army of 
Sanguines, although the latter are notable strate- 
gists, and redoubtable brigands by no means 
lacking in courage. 

For the rest, as Huber was the first to observe, 
the tactics of the besieged party are not the same 
when the assault is made by the Sanguines as 
when it is delivered by the Amazons. This 
observation of his applies more especially to the 
victims which he calls the Grey-Black ants: for 
at the close of the eighteenth century the ants 
were not yet afflicted with the barbarously 
scientific names which they bear to-day. They 
were known, simply and familiarly, as the 
Sanguine ants, the Mining ants, the Russet 
ants, the Amazons or Legionaries, Now the 
Amazon has become Polyergus rufescens, and the 
Grey-Black ant is Formica fusca^ of the race of 
the Glebarite. 

When the attack is made by the Sanguine 
ants the first impulse of the besieged community 
is to save the larvae and nymphs by collecting 
them at the entrance of the nest farthest from the 
point of attack, so that they may be more readily 
carried off in the event of defeat. This done, the 
defenders hurl themselves heroically into the 
fray, defending their territory inch by inch, and 
so effectively that the assailants often give way in the 
end, and quickly retreat, carrying off their booty. 



84 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

But when an attack of the Amazons is signalled 
the Grey-Blacks understand that all resistance is 
useless, and that they are dealing with an over- 
whelming and pitiless enemy. The entire garrison 
is overcome with an apathetic consternation, 
whose only hope lies in satisfying the aggressors. 

Forel estimates that a colony of a thousand 
Polyergus captures every year, on an average, forty 
thousand cocoons of Fusca or Rufibarbis. 



Here is a curious point in which the ants 
resemble certain human races: the brutality and 
the probably stupid exactions of the slave-holding 
ants appear sometimes to exhaust the patience 
of their slaves. Forel for there is nothing that 
he has not seen once witnessed one of these 
servile rebellions. The Spartacists of the sub- 
terranean kingdom seized their masters by the 
legs, bit them, and carried them far away from 
the nest. Protected by their cuirass of chitin, the 
Amazons submitted to this treatment quietly 
enough, and did not retaliate unless they were 
pushed too far. They then would take the head 
of an insurgent between their terrible sickles, and 
perforate it at a stroke if the slave did not release 
her hold. 

Stupid though they appear to be in their method 
of making war, the Amazons sometimes have 
remarkable ideas. They have been known, for 



WARFARE 85 

example, on finding themselves overcrowded in 
their home, and having discovered an abandoned 
nest which they considered to be more comfort- 
able than their own, to transfer all their slaves 
thither, settling down with them in the new nest 
after some hours of journeying to and fro. 

There are Amazons in America and Japan 
which have almost the same habits as our own 
species, and enslave ancillary races, which bear 
unfamiliar names. There is nothing to be gained 
by enumerating them here. The Polyergus breviceps 
is distinguished from all her kind by her perfect 
courtesy. She never inflicts the slightest violence 
on those species whose children she carries off. 



10 

Territorial wars are less brutal and less 
desperate than the raids of the slave-holding ants. 
The ant has as definite a sense of property as any 
human being. This is not confined to the nest and 
its contents, but extends to the area which she 
frequents and searches for forage, and above all 
to the reservations on which her aphides are 
pastured. She will not permit the emissaries of a 
neighbouring colony to enter her territory on 
marauding expeditions, or to steal a drop of the 
honey-dew secreted by the plant-lice which she 
rears, parks, stables and tends. We find here the 
same contradictions as in the case of man. We 
permit no one to take what belongs to us, but 



86 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

we are willing enough to take what belongs to 
other people. This inconsistency gives rise to 
many conflicts, which are, however, less frequent, 
less cunning and less complicated than our own. 
We shall return to this subject in the chapter 
devoted to aphidian cattle. 

A more special kind of warfare, since it is 
waged only by the tropical species, is war upon 
the termites. This is a purely alimentary warfare; 
or perhaps it should rather be described as 
hunting. The unfortunate termite, redoubtable 
and ingenious when confronting other enemies, is 
the providential prey, the destined victim of the 
ants, which in certain regions pass a good part of 
their life in watching for the opportunity of making 
their way into the termitary. This opportunity 
very rarely occurs, thanks to the precautions taken 
by the vigilant defenders. I will refer those who 
are interested in the details of these conflicts 
to an excellent little work by M.-E. Bugnion, 
entitled "La Guerre des Fourmis et des Termites." 



ii 

In the world of the ants, as in our own, a war 
is not necessarily terminated by the extermina- 
tion or flight of the defeated army. The ants are 
as well aware as ourselves of the benefits of 
armistice and peace, and the advantages of 
alliances. Most of the reactions observed in this 
connexion have been artificially produced, for in 



WARFARE 87 

the natural state they must be somewhat rare, 
and they take place far from human observation. 
None the less, they demonstrate once more that 
the intelligence of the ants is very closely akin to 
that of man. 

Ants of the same species but coming from 
two different nests, if thrown pell-mell into the 
same artificial formicary, attack one another 
furiously at first, but they undoubtedly realize 
the uselessness and imbecility of a fratricidal 
conflict, for presently their excitement abates, 
their mandibles relax, the combatants fall apart, 
and a sort of diffused peace makes itself felt, 
which soon becomes an alliance that nothing can 
shake; and the sometime enemies, as though 
they were members of the same family, set 
courageously to work in the new home which 
has been imposed on them. 

When the ants are of different species peace is 
less rapidly established. Of this we can readily 
convince ourselves by repeating the experiment of 
Forel, placing in the same bag, for example, a 
colony of Sanguine a and one of Pratensis. The bag 
having been shaken in order to mix the ants 
thoroughly, it is emptied into an artificial formi- 
cary. At first there is a scene of the greatest 
confusion; then a battle commences which con- 
tinues until the evening, gradually diminishing 
in virulence, and finally degenerating into in- 
offensive scuffles and half-hearted threats. A few 
Sanguines and a certain number of Pratensis 



88 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

commonly lose their lives in the battle. It is, 
however, an astonishing fact that the losses of 
the Sanguines are never greater than those of 
their enemy, for the Pratensis have a formidable 
poison at their disposal; but it is evident that 
they are reluctant to make use of it. 

Two or three days later peace is definitely 
concluded, and the whilom enemies help one 
another to carry larvae and nymphs, and work 
together like sisters at the improvement and 
upkeep of their new home. 

This concord is so complete that it even affects 
the architecture of the nest, for, as we have seen, 
each species of ant has its own style that is, its 
own fashion of selecting, triturating, and disposing 
of the materials of the house which it builds for 
itself; and this, of course, is why in a state of 
nature the dome of a mixed nest is not precisely 
like that of a nest of unmixed Sangulnea or 
Pratensis. 

This influence of allies, auxiliaries, or slaves 
does not stop short at the architecture of the nest, 
but extends even to the character, and modifies, 
in a greater or less degree, the psychology and 
morality of the formicary. For example, as was 
noted by Ernest Andre, the Amazons, when 
served by the timid Formica fusca, become 
gentler and more reserved and deliberate in 
their movements, while the lively and resolute 
Rufibarbis inspires her masters to greater 
activity. 



WARFARE 89 

12 

To these bellicose ants I must add the large 
and formidable Visiting or Driver ants of South 
Africa, Guiana, Mexico, and Brazil : the Dorylintf, 
Ecitiniy and LeftanillwL They do not wage war 
in the proper sense of the term, because nothing 
can resist them, and they never any more than 
a tornado or a typhoon encounter an adversary 
who dares to oppose their progress. 

The Dory/us anomma of Africa, somewhat 
recently observed by J. Vosseler, is, like the 
Eciton hamatumy studied by Hetschako, W. Miiller, 
Datu, Belt, Bar, and others, an enormous blind 
ant, exclusively carnivorous, whose only trade is 
massacre and pillage. The Anomma do not found 
communities, but establish camps, or rather 
bivouacs, along their paths, being necessarily 
nomadic, since they quickly and completely 
devastate the areas in which they sojourn. 

Their predatory expeditions are organized in a 
military and methodical fashion. They are pre- 
ceded by a few scouts, but before long, in their 
impatience to begin their work of pillage and 
carnage, they surge out of the crevices of the soil 
and inundate the plain or jungle. Advancing at a 
run, their ranks are enclosed by two living hedges 
of officers with large heads and hooked mandibles, 
who protect and guide and control them, and, at 
the least alarm, fall upon the enemy. In order 
that nothing shall escape them, they send forth 



9 o THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

detachments of foragers on either hand. The 
movements of these armies, which represent, in 
the world of insects, a cataclysm comparable to 
that which would be caused by the release, in a 
world of defenceless quadrupeds, of a horde of 
more than two million wolves for this is the 
figure reached by the most moderate estimates 
results in a universal and indescribable panic, 
which is often preceded by flights of birds. All 
living things that cannot flee are instantly mas- 
sacred. A prey too heavy to be transported is 
dissected on the spot, and the morsels are carried 
off to the general store. If the Anomma find a 
hen-roost in their path, or any of the smaller 
mammals, they leave only the bones of their 
victims. At Tonga a caged leopard was killed 
and stripped of its flesh in the course of a single 
night. In the old days, such prisoners of war as 
were not considered comestible were delivered 
over to these ants, being first bound hand and 
foot, and in a few hours the Anomma reduced 
them to osteological specimens worthy of our 
museums; for since they cannot see they attack 
man as they attack any other creature. If you wish 
to remain in your house when the Anomma are 
on the warpath, or if there is a sick person in the 
house who cannot be removed, you may stand the 
legs of your bed in bowls of vinegar, taking care 
that there are no cracks in the ceiling, otherwise 
the ants will drop down upon you. But it is more 
usual to make way for them, since their mandibles, 



WARFARE 91 

even when detached from the body, do not release 
their hold. The natives employ them as surgical 
clips for suturing wounds, for they will hold the 
lips of a cut in contact until it is healed. 

After the passage of the Dorylinte, as after the 
passage of their American sisters, the Ecitini> no 
living creature is left. When they take a village 
by assault they devour bird, beast, and insect; on 
the other hand, since they cleanse it of every 
trace of vermin, the inhabitants, who make their 
escape in good time, are obliged to recognize 
that their misfortune is not without its com- 
pensations. 

Some of these raids, when the country is 
totally devastated, are rather migrations, Here 
again the Dorylin^ have the same customs as the 
Edtini\ they carry with them their eggs, larvae, 
and nymphs, and on making a halt they shelter 
them in provisional nests. But since the larvae of 
the Dorylina are very sensitive to the heat of the 
sun, they are transported along covered ways, or 
in the shade cast by the soldiers, whose serried 
heads and bodies form veritable tunnels. A pro- 
visional nest of Eating discovered by Bar, near 
Cayenne, had a capacity of more than a cubic 
yard, and contained hundreds of thousands of 
workers, whose interlaced bodies formed enor- 
mous balls, which maintained the necessary heat 
around the cocoons. 

This formation of living balls to protect the 
brood is practised by both species in cases of 



92 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

torrential rains or sudden floods, or when it is 
urgently necessary to cross a stream. Is it 
explained by a mere reflex, or is it a deliberate 
and heroic act inspired by supreme distress? 
The accumulation of the cocoons in the centre of 
the compacted mass can hardly be imputed to 
chance. 



CHAPTER VI 

COMMUNICATION AND 
ORIENTATION 



How do ants, which are almost blind, when they 
meet in their nest a member of their own race, 
but of another family, know that they are dealing 
with a stranger ? This is one of the most obscure 
and complex problems of the formicary. A patient 
and ingenious myrmecologist, Miss Adele Fielde, 
has given years to the study of this problem, but 
without arriving at a wholly satisfactory solution, 
Her experiments lead her to believe that the 
olfactory sense, which in the ant is predominant 
over all the rest, resides mainly in the last seven 
segments of its funicle that is, the process at 
the end of the antennae, Each of these joints is 
consecrated to a particular odour; for example, 
the odour of the nest is perceived by the last 
segment; the last but one discerns the age of the 
workers in colonies consisting of various families 
of the same species ; and the last but two perceives 
the scent with which the ant impregnates her 
own trail. When the last segment is removed the 
ant will enter any nest, and will in consequence 
be killed; when the antepenultimate segment is 



94 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

amputated she can no longer recover her own 
trail. By another segment the effluvium of the 
queen-mother is recognized, and the worker 
deprived of this segment will pay no further 
attention to the queen or her offspring. Another 
segment is reserved for the perception of the 
odour of the ant's own species; when it is sup- 
pressed the most varied species may be mingled 
without conflict. 

Note that the odour of the nest is not identical 
with the odour of the species; the first odour is 
variable, depending on the age of the inhabitants 
and other circumstances; the second is almost 
indelible. The hereditary odour, again, is dif- 
ferent; it is the maternal odour, which every ant 
bears from the egg until the day of her death, 
and which must not be confounded with the 
odour of the queen, who may not be the mother 
of the ant in question. 

But it would be rash to declare that the 
olfactory sense of ants is confined to the antennae. 
It is, on the other hand, quite possible that this 
sense is not localized in an organ, as with us, but, 
as in other insects, is distributed all over the 
body. Minnich has recently proved that butter- 
flies smell with their legs: to be precise, with the 
four terminal portions, tarsal and distal, of the 
basitarsi of the second and third pair of legs. 
According to Wheeler this form of sensory 
reception is probably quite frequent in the 
insects. It is thus useless to distinguish between 



COMMUNICATION AND ORIENTATION 95 

perception of odours at a distance and perception 
of taste by ' contact, for insects utilize their 
antennae for both purposes, and also to perceive 
tactile sensations. 

We must further consider the life of odours in 
the memory of the ant. This is variable; in some 
cases it persists for ten days or so, in others for 
as long as three months, and in others and 
notably when the hereditary odour is in question 
it may survive for more than three years. Add to 
this the inevitable mixtures and superimpositions, 
and above all add the electric, magnetic, and 
perhaps etheric or psychic perceptions of these 
inexhaustible organs, and you will see what 
incredible complications await the simplest investi- 
gations of this little world a world which we 
regard as much simpler, much more rudimentary, 
much poorer in heredity, much less interesting 
and less rich in the unexpected than our own. 



The antennae, which in the ants take the place 
of eyes since the sight of ants is so feeble that 
many are practically blind, serve also as organs of 
speech. We have all watched the ants going and 
coming along the paths surrounding their nest. 
Whenever two ants meet, they almost invariably 
tap one another rapidly with their antennae, as 
though they had something to say. Have they no 
other means of communication ? It is certain that 



96 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

the alarm, when a formicary is attacked, or merely 
disturbed, is propagated with such 'lightning-like 
rapidity that we are almost compelled to explain 
it by a complex of cellular reactions, instantaneous 
and unanimous, such as occurs in our own bodies 
when they are seriously threatened or injured. 
But in addition to these collective reactions there 
is incontestably an individual antennal language. 
Sir John Lubbock made minute and conclusive 
experiments in this connexion; and here is one 
which may readily be verified : Two little saucers 
are placed at equal distances from the formicary; 
in the first are deposited fifty larvae or nymphs, 
and in the second, three or four; then an ant 
is placed in each saucer. Immediately each ant 
seizes a larva and carries it to the nest. The 
larvae are replaced as they are removed; and 
presently it will be seen that three or four times 
as many workers come to the saucer containing 
the fifty larvae as to that which contains only 
three. The ants must, therefore, have succeeded 
in making their comrades understand that there 
.was more urgent work to be done in one direction 
than in the other, 

Here is another experiment of Lubbock's. 
He had been observing a little Lasius niger^ who 
was constantly occupied in carrying larvae into 
her nest. At night he imprisoned her in a phial, 
releasing her on the following morning. She 
immediately resumed her labours. He imprisoned 
her again at 9 a.m and at 4 p.m. released her 



COMMUNICATION AND ORIENTATION 97 

in the neighbourhood of her larvae. She examined 
them with great attention, but returned to her 
nest without taking any of them. At the moment, 
no other ant was outside the nest. In less than a 
minute she returned with eight of her friends, 
and the little troop went straight up to the heap 
of larvae. When they had covered two-thirds of 
the distance the observer again imprisoned the 
marked ant; after some minutes' hesitation the 
others returned to the nest with remarkable 
promptitude. 

At 5 p.m. he laid the marked ant on the larvae; 
she once more returned empty-handed to the 
nest, but after remaining there for a few seconds 
she returned with thirteen companions. They 
must all have been informed of the presence of 
the larvae, and otherwise than by example, since 
they had never seen the marked ant carrying a 
larva. 

Are such communications made by means of 
the antennae alone? Very probably; and indeed, 
almost certainly; but we cannot employ a counter- 
test, since an ant whose antennae have been 
amputated loses her sense of direction, and could 
not find her way either to the larvae or to the nest. 

3 

In addition to these experiments, which estab- 
lished the fact of communication, Lubbock made 
many others, continuing them for days at a time, 



9 8 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

and recording minute by minute all the actions 
and movements of various Lasius workers in the 
presence of larvae, He tells us of one, for example, 
which between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., when he 
ceased to observe her, made ninety return journeys 
from the nest to a bowl containing larvae. On each 
journey she carried off a larva, and she always 
returned alone. Others, in the same circum- 
stances, made fifty or eighty journeys, and were 
never accompanied. Did they consider it super- 
fluous to advise their companions, feeling that 
they were equal to the task ? On the other hand, 
the experiment with the 70 pins gave results of a 
very ambiguous nature. It would take several 
pages to describe this experiment in detail; it 
will suffice to explain that of 70 pins thrust into 
a dish of cork, 3 bore, at their heads, little scraps 
of cardboard smeared with hoffey. The final 
statistics, at the end of five days, showed that 
of 157 ants, 104 went to the pins carrying the 
honey, and 53 to the 67 pins which were not 
baited with honey. But is it not probable that the 
ants which went to the honey were guided by 
their sense of smell, which is, as we know, 
extremely subtle? 



The antennal language must be elementary in 
the extreme. This is proved by the fact that 
when the ants cannot make themselves under- 



COMMUNICATION AND ORIENTATION 99 

stood they have recourse to example and direct 
action. They forcibly drag along those whom 
they wish to convince, compelling them to cover 
the path which they will have to follow, and 
showing them what they are to do by doing it in 
their presence. Another thing which proves that 
it is by no means complicated, and is, properly 
speaking, no more than an exchange of sensa- 
tions, is the fact that the parasitic insects, and 
notably certain coleoptera which exude secre- 
tions of an intoxicating nature, though they have 
nothing in common with the ants, whom they 
corrupt, living sumptuously at their expense, are 
able to speak this language and understand it as 
well as their hostesses. Obviously we must not 
exaggerate the importance of a language which 
is so easily understood. Nevertheless, the examples 
already cited, given by Sir John Lubbock, which 
are only a few of many, show that we must not 
under-estimate its resources. 

For the rest, the problem of communication is 
one of the most exasperating problems of the 
formicary. Under certain circumstances, when 
the construction or defence of the nest is in 
question, or the distribution of labour, or military 
operations, or the tending of the larvae, or the 
highly complicated culture of fungi, or the main- 
tenance, herding, and defence of aphidian cattle, 
or the formation of a chain by the Weaver ants, 
in order to hold in place the recalcitrant edges of 
a long leaf, we are amazed by a unanimous and 



ur irtu; AJNT 

instantaneous co-operation, which seems as though 
it can only be explained by the ants' capacity for 
making themselves understood, giving and receiv- 
ing orders or advice, and following a common 
plan. 

But apart from these instances, and above all 
in the handling of a burden, we often perceive in 
the ants an incoherence, an agitation, of so stupid 
and futile a character, a lack of common sense so 
bewildering, that we are inclined to question their 
intelligence. As a result of patient and protracted 
experiment, an accurate, reliable observer, V. 
Cornetz, came to the conclusion that there is no 
co-operation among the ants, that, far from 
helping, they persistently hinder and oppose one 
another, and that what we call "the spirit of the 
formicary 57 does not manifest itself outside the 
nest at any rate, when heavy and awkward 
burdens have to be transported. 

We have only to observe what happens in the 
vicinity of the ants' nest in order to convince 
ourselves that he is right. Yet those who insist 
that there is agreement and co-operation are not 
mistaken. Whom are we to believe? It is quite 
possible that the ants do lose their heads when 
they have to move certain objects, just as it is 
possible that, in the eyes of an observer who 
should observe us from as great an altitude and 
as blindly as we observe the ants, we too, in all 
sorts of circumstances when we seem to ourselves 
to be behaving most reasonably, would appear 



COMMUNICATION AND ORIENTATION 101 

to be running hither and thither like madmen. 
There are certainly many things in our conduct 
and our civilization which would be quite incom- 
prehensible to such an observer, and which are 
really pointless. But this bewilderment and con- 
fusion when burdens have to be carried is only 
temporary. Continue to observe them patiently, 
and you will see that the ants always end by 
achieving their purpose; that the sliver of straw, 
the splinter of wood, the over-large insect which 
they want to carry into the nest always does find 
its way thither. 

These failures of intelligence, these inco- 
herences and anomalies, always astonish the 
observer. But do they not experience, on their 
own plane, the very difficulties that we too experi- 
ence when confronted by the treachery and the 
ill-will of Nature, which to us also is in- 
explicable ? 

The chief conclusion to be drawn from these 
observations, as from many others of a different 
order, is that ants, in a body, often display a kind 
of genius, but that when isolated, and no longer 
inspired by the collective soul, they lose three- 
fourths of their intelligence. 

This is all we can say until the problem has 
been more closely studied. And in the meantime, 
let us remind ourselves that if we cannot solve 
such petty problems, the whole of whose data 
could be held in the hollow of the hand, there is 
a certain arrogance in imagining that we have 



io2 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

found the solution of those which' are hidden 
from us in the depths of the firmament. 



The problem of mutual assistance and co-opera- 
tion gives rise to another, which leads us to con- 
sider the morality of the formicary. The earliest 
observers Latreille, Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau, 
etc, declared that they had seen ants helping 
their mutilated comrades, nursing and tending the 
sick and wounded. Forel, a more circumspect 
observer, tells us that although the ants seem to 
show some concern for slightly wounded com- 
rades, those who are seriously injured are carried 
out of the nest and left to their fate. Sir John 
Lubbock, who in this connexion carried out the 
most methodical experiments, states that the 
workers are more often than not quite indifferent 
to the fate of their comrades, and that it does 
not occur to them to go to the rescue when their 
companions are limed in a pool of honey, or half 
drowned, or buried under a landslip, although a 
little assistance would save their lives. 

This indecision and uncertainty makes them 
seem more akin to ourselves, and alienates them 
from the bees and termites, which are without 
exception utterly indifferent to the misfortunes of 
others. The bee ruthlessly throws her dying sisters 
out of the hive; the termite instantly devours its 
dead; while the ant, showing more restraint than 



COMMUNICATION AND ORIENTATION 103 

human cannibals, does not eat the bodies even of 
her enemies. 

In the formicary, as in our human cities, among 
those who pass by there is sometimes a Good 
Samaritan, Are such individuals rarer or more fre- 
quent than with us ? On this point the myrmeco- 
logists differ; at all events, rare cases of benevo- 
lence do seem to occur, and this fact is assuredly 
more extraordinary and more disconcerting than 
if charity were universal and instinctive; for then 
we should be compelled to refer it to the behests 
of organic law, which would render it inevitable 
and automatic, and would rob it of all merit, 
and all relation to the human virtue, 

I will not here refer to facts which are, I 
believe, sufficiently well known, and which are 
recorded in the works of all the myrmecologists. 
I am alluding to the little Fusca born without 
antennae, attacked by strangers and picked up by 
her compatriots, who carry her back to the nest; 
to the unfortunate ant lying on her back and 
unable to turn over and feed herself, who is 
rescued by her comrades ; to helplessly intoxicated 
workers (the victims of our experiments) who 
are led home to the formicary; to the Lasius 
queen, accidentally crushed, whom her subjects 
continued for weeks to tend as though she were 
still alive. Huber, for that matter, had already 
noticed that five or six workers remained for 
several days beside the royal corpse, constantly 
brushing and licking it, "either," he gracefully 



104 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

added, "because they still retained some affection 
for their sovereign, or because they hoped to 
resuscitate her by their attentions. " 

These examples, to which I might add those 
given by Ebrard, and on which no one, having 
regard to the rank of the observers, has ever 
cast any doubt, seem to prove that more Good 
Samaritans pass along the tracks of the formicary 
than along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, 
which is'^by no means the least frequented of our 
human highways. 

For the rest, it would be as well to examine each 
of these cases more closely. The instances of the 
little Fusca born without antennae, the ant lying 
on her back, and the helplessly intoxicated workers, 
tend to prove that the ants, as Forel has remarked, 
show concern only for sick or wounded comrades 
who may still render some service to the com- 
munity. As for the crushed queen, and the queen 
of whom Huber writes, it is quite possible that the 
workers surrounding them did not for some little 
time realize that they were dead. 

Nevertheless, let us accept these examples, and 
ask ourselves how far we can admit the early 
anthropomorphic interpretations. Pity and chanty 
exist nowhere in Nature save in man, in whom 
they are probably the result of an investment 
made by his egoism, to be repaid, with high 
interest, in a future life. It is not for us to cast 
a stone at him. He obeys a formal command, 
inscribed in every drop of his blood; and all 



COMMUNICATION AND ORIENTATION 105 

living creatures, except the ant, and up to a certain 
point the bee and the termite, can do no other- 
wise if they would conform to the supreme, 
universal, and eternal law, which is to persevere in 
living. Before the belief in a life beyond the 
grave died or lost its power, charity had time to 
transform itself into an inherited habit, which 
became a sort of sub-instinctive luxury, somewhat 
intermittent in its emergence, and whose mani- 
festations, though often admirable, are not very 
frequent. What shall we do when this reserve is 
exhausted? Shall we find another reason for loving 
one another, and occasionally putting our neigh- 
bour before ourselves? It is possible, for every- 
thing happens sooner or later; but we do not 
seem to be looking for this reason, and in the 
interval, which may be protracted, humanity may 
perhaps exterminate itself, or at least be so 
spoiled and damaged that it will have to begin 
all over again. 

As for the ant, she would evidently resemble the 
man who expects nothing of heaven or hell, were 
it not that she has her regurgitative charity, which 
is a joy, and her religion, which is love of the 
whole of which she forms a part, without which 
she does not exist, and which represents her own 
ife, enlarged and multiplied. How far is this 
ientiment akin to what we call charity? It is, of 
:ourse, impossible for us to say. 



ro6 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 



Since we are now considering difficult problems, 
let us approach yet another, equally delicate : the 
problem of orientation or direction. 

We know that many animals, and notably the 
homing pigeons and the migratory birds, possess 
a special sense, which enables the first to find their 
way back to their cote over distances of hundreds 
of miles, and the second to return to their nests, or 
their habitual place of sojourn, across the seas, in 
another continent. The scientists to-day are almost 
agreed in localizing this sense in the semicircular 
canals of the inner ear, which are supposed to play 
the part of radiogonometric receivers; or in other 
terms, to capture certain waves, some of which are 
known to us, while of others we as yet know nothing. 

Some terrestrial animals for example, the horse 
* and even human beings notably the Eskimo 
and the nomads of the Sahara are said to possess 
an analogous power, though in them it is less 
developed. Must we attribute this also to the semi- 
circular canals, or to a faculty which has been 
denominated "Exner's faculty," and which is sup- 
posed to be "the sensation and the memory of 
the positions in space of the median plane of the 
body"? Thus described, does not this faculty 
seem rather too closely akin to the virtus dormitiva 
of Molifere's opium ? To express it more simply, 
is it memory, or an unconscious visual or olfactory 
orientation? Is it perhaps something quite different. 



COMMUNICATION AND ORIENTATION 107 

of which we have as yet no idea, and which those 
who possess it are incapable of explaining? Let us 
not venture into this labyrinth, for we should not 
readily find our way out of it, in spite of our semi- 
circular canals, but let us rather content ourselves 
with summing up what we may learn of the matter 
by observing the ant. 

It is admitted that the orientation of the bee and 
the wasp is almost exclusively visual. This cannot 
be the case with the ant, which in general is 
almost blind, or at best can see only an inch or 
two. From a large number of experiments made by 
Sir John Lubbock in the close proximity of the 
nest, it appears that the ants make much less use 
of their eyes than we should do in similar circum- 
stances ; but that nevertheless they are to a certain 
extent guided by sight. On the other hand. Bonnet, 
J. H. Fabre, Brun, and Cornetz, by interrupting, 
sweeping, flooding, and deodorizing their tracks, 
have shown that the olfactory sense plays but a 
secondary part in the maintenance of direction, and 
that after a little groping they are perfectly well 
able to follow what has been called "the odoriferous 
trail." 

The latest experiments of Cornetz, the perspi- 
cacious Algerian observer, show that an ant taken 
at her nest, but of course at a moment when she has 
not just returned from a journey ', and removed to 
some little distance, does nothing but turn round 
and round, and cannot find her way back to her 
nest. On the other hand, offer an ant at some 



io8 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

distance from her nest food on a tray, carry this 
tray where you will, into the sun or into the shade, 
and while the worker is filling her crop turn it 
gently round, reversing it north and south, for 
example: the insect does not lose her bearings, 
and returns directly to the nest. She therefore 
possesses and retains a sense of the right direction, 
and is not in the least confused by the fact that 
she has, unawares, been turned head to tail. This 
experiment and others like it almost invariably 
fail to bewilder her; and from them Cornetz 
deduces the following formula: "The ability to 
return is a function of the outward journey 
covered in the course of an exploration, and not the 
function of visual, tactile, or olfactory memories," 
Nevertheless, it is possible to lead her astray by 
presenting her with a suitable bait on her home- 
ward journey, which follows, for example, a 
northerly direction, and carrying her, while she is 
feeding, past her nest, after turning her half-way 
round. She will turn round again and proceed 
in a northerly direction as before, without realizing 
that she has passed her nest that she has turned 
her back on it and is hopelessly astray. But what 
human intelligence would be proof against dia- 
bolical tricks of this kind ? 



7 

To what can we attribute this faculty? How can 
we explain it? Here our difficulties begin; or 



COMMUNICATION AND ORIENTATION 109 

rather, they recur, I shall not expound in detail 
the various theories which attempt to explain it; 
they are not particularly lucid, and they all end in 
a more or less veiled confession of ignorance. 
These theories evoke a mnemonic element which 
recalls the nest, or an image of the point of 
departure, thanks to which the insect replaces 
the axis of its body until the nest is behind it; 
which is merely transposing the problem. They 
speak of the "homing instinct," which is a purely 
verbal explanation; of a compensated progress, 
which allows for divergences by referring them to 
an axis ; but they do not explain this sense of an 
axis. They speak of tropism and phototropism, 
and of the sun as a visual point of reference, even 
in the shade or in darkness, for there are radiations 
which pass through the most opaque substances; 
and in this connexion we must not forget that the 
ant is sensitive to ultra-violet rays. 

"Everything happens," says Rabaud, on the 
other hand, "as though the animal, having set out 
in a given direction, were by that fact polarized/' 
And Cornetz concludes that there must be some 
unknown factor of reference which continues to 
act after the ant has been moved or turned round, 
determining the resumption of progress parallel to 
the original course. But even this is to answer 
the question by another question. Cornetz then 
develops the "topochemism" of Forel, which is 
supposed to be not merely olfactive, but active at 
a distance, and which would enable the ant to 



no THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

perceive a sort of olfactive panorama, and even a 
panorama in relief or perspective, enabling her to 
perceive the' odour of an object, in extenso^ as a flat 
or a pointed odour in a word, if I understand 
M. Forel, an odour in three and perhaps in four 
dimensions. The ant would thus be conscious of 
"a topography of a chemical nature, with odours 
as an element of specific energy." She would 
be aware at a distance of odorous emanations 
which would prolong in the air their physical and 
spatial geography, but in a less definite fashion. 
"Thus," adds E. L. Bouvier, "provided with this 
topochemical sense, which enables them to become 
cognisant of forms and the relations of forms, they 
are capable of distinguishing, by their odoriferous 
fields, the differences presented by the outward and 
the homeward course of a journey, by the right- 
hand and the left-hand side of the track, and, 
consequently, the direction to be followed. Not 
without some difficulty, Forel's workers succeeded 
in finding their way even when their eyes had 
been covered with opaque varnish; when, their 
antennae were amputated they were quite incapable 
of doing so. Scent, therefore, rather than sight, 
plays an essential part in this phenomenon." 



We must not forget for we must overlook 
nothing the possibility of an internal orientation ; 
and this brings us back to the semicircular canals, 



COMMUNICATION AND ORIENTATION m 

which do not, it seems, exist in the tiny head of 
the ant, but " which may be replaced by the 
antennae, by Cornetz's "sense of angles" and 
Bonnier's "sense of attitudes," which enable the 
ant to correct deviations and to follow a path 
parallel to her original course. But what is the 
nature of this sense? We always return to the 
same problem, since the hypotheses hazarded 
always return upon themselves. For the rest, 
Cornetz has found that ants are able to retain 
their knowledge of direction even when the 
succession of angular sensations is interrupted; 
and this was proved, moreover, by Lubbock's 
experiment. 

We must not forget Pieron's "muscular 
memory; that is, the memory of the various 
movements effected in order to travel from one 
point to another; a reversible memory, enabling 
the ant to return to the point from which it 
started." Brun, reviewing Pieron's experiment, 
concludes that "the ant behaves as though she 
possessed a compass, on which she could read the 
absolute direction of her journey, and a pedometer, 
which constantly indicated, at any point of the 
journey, the distance still to be covered," 

I would rather believe that she is herself the 
compass or the needle which denotes the direction 
of the nest; a compass or needle which in the nest 
would be inert and demagnetized, and would 
recover its paramagnetic or pseudomagnetic pro- 
perties only when it was resensitized or recharged 



ii2 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

by the outward journey; for we cannot be sure 
that there are not, in a world so completely unlike 
our own, forces analogous to our electricity or 
magnetism, whose existence we do not as yet 
suspect. 

All this, of course, seems very complicated, but 
in all probability it is very simple for the ant, the 
similarity of whose organs to our own is more 
apparent than actual. 

And thus the problem stands. We are still 
completely at sea; and we realize what strange 
mysteries lie hidden in the most infinitesimal 
lives. 



CHAPTER VII 

PASTORAL ANTS 

i 

WE may without .rashness assert that primitive 
man, who may have lived many thousands or 
hundreds of thousands of years before the pre- 
historic man whose relics we find in certain caves, 
had no domestic animals. He lived only on roots, 
nuts, berries, shellfish, and the product of his 
hunting. Very gradually, after thousands of years, 
as the result of innumerable confused experiments^ 
and much obtuse and obscure reflection, he suc- 
ceeded in attracting, taming, sheltering, tending 
and breeding a certain number of inoffensive 
animals, who provided him with their milk, their 
wool or hides, and their flesh, and that of their 
young. Thenceforward his existence became a 
little less precarious, a little less harassing. There 
was now a barrier, a sort of protective zone 
between life and the intolerable and daily menace 
of death. The pastoral age succeeded to the 
distressful age of hunting and fishing and 
unremitting hunger. 

We find an analogous advance in the evolution 
of certain species of ant. Are they more intelligent 
than the majority of their fellows, who have 



ii4 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

remained warriors, hunters, brigands, marauders 
and reapers, and who depend for their livelihood 
on the uncertain booty of the day? Or do they not 
rather owe their progress to the benevolent accident 
which turned their attention to a fact which others 
had not realized? At what period did the first 
idea emerge? As to this, we know nothing. But 
we are just as ignorant of our own history. We 
find many examples of these pastoral races, and 
notably of almost all our species of Lasius, and 
their aphides too, in fossil amber. We should 
therefore have to go back to a period very much 
earlier than the Tertiary: that is to say, thousands 
or millions of years before our own advent. But all 
documents are lacking. 

It is highly probable that, as so often happens in 
our own life, the discovery arose one day from 
a fortuitous circumstance. Roving at hazard in 
search of the daily ration of honey, an ant came 
upon a tribe of plant-lice assembled on the tip of 
a tender green shoot. A pleasant saccharine odour 
reached her antennse, while her little legs were 
agreeably enmeshed in a sort of delicious dew. 
The discovery was miraculous, and seemed to be 
inexhaustible* Immediately she proceeded to fill to 
bursting-point her collective pouch, her omnibus 
stomach, her municipal flagon, and hurried back 
to the nest, where amidst the exaltations and 
convulsions of the ritual regurgitation, the magni- 
ficent find was echoed abroad, the discovery that 
promised an era of inexhaustible abundance and 



PASTORAL ANTS 115 

bliss. After an excited antennal dialogue the whole 
community set out, in long files, for the miraculous 
wells of plenty. A new age had commenced; they 
felt they were no longer alone in a world in which 
all things were unfriendly. 



The example was not wasted ; nevertheless, the 
majority of the ants did not follow it. Was this 
a matter of race, or intelligence, or routine, or 
habit, or alimentary preferences? Who shall say? 
Experiments have yet to be made in respect of 
this important point; they may one day reveal an 
interesting corner of myrmecaean psychology, and 
perhaps even the ideas and intentions of the 
Anima Mundi. What would happen if (as is quite 
possible) one were to induce a pastoral race to 
adopt, as slaves or partners or allies, a tribe which 
had never lived the pastoral life? Very probably 
the latter would imitate the former, and share 
their labours. But what would happen if after a 
time a portion of the recently initiated tribe were 
isolated from their tutors ? Would they adopt, as 
human beings would do, the novel methods whose 
advantages they had learned? If one of their 
fertilized females founded a new colony, would her 
offspring go in search of melliferous plant-lice? 
Analogous experiments might be made with the 
Mushroom-growers and Weavers, of whom I shall 
presently speak. Would the adoptive daughters. 



n6 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

slaves, or allies of the former proceed to cultivate 
mushrooms, and would the allies of the Weavers, 
left to themselves, conceive the idea of utilizing on 
their own account the wonderful and providential 
shuttle which had been wielded in their presence? 
We see, and we shall see again, that despite all 
that has been accomplished much remains to be 
done, and as yet we can see no bounds to the 
fields of investigation. 



In any case, we know already that not all the 
ants are content to exploit this great accidental 
discovery in a simple and mechanical fashion. 
Some species have gradually developed and per- 
fected their methods of exploitation ; we may say 
indeed that man himself could have done no 
better. To begin with, they acquired the conviction 
that the herds grazing in the neighbourhood of 
their nest were incontestably their property. They 
learned to assemble and park and tend their plant- 
lice, and to milk them regularly, or rather to solicit 
and multiply their saccharine evacuations by suit- 
able caresses ; for it must here be confessed that 
they do not draw the "milk" from the so-called 
"teats," but a less idyllic matter provoke and 
facilitate an anal secretion. They select their 
herds, and have succeeded in obtaining from the 
same aphis twenty to forty drops of secretion per 
hour. Careful, busy, diligent, they pass continually 



PASTORAL ANTS 117 

to and fro between their nest and the herds of 
aphides or coccidae, as a grazier goes to and fro 
between his farmhouse and his pastures. They 
surround their flock with meticulous precautions. 
The less civilized content themselves with mount- 
ing guard over them, threatening with their shears 
marauders prospecting for honey-dew; the struggle 
for existence and the conquest of natural resources 
is for them as strenuous a business as it is with 
us, as implacable, and far more immemorial. 
Others, more practical our Lasius niger, for 
example have hit upon the notion of amputating 
the wings of the plant-lice in order to prevent 
their escape, and to facilitate transport; or they 
fence them in, or build covered paths for them, or 
prepare shelters in which they can take refuge 
when it rains. Others, like the Cremastogaster 
filosa of America, make cages of papier mach to 
protect them from the larvae of the cochineal insect 
or the ladybird, which devour them greedily. 
There are even species, more prudent still, which 
stable their cattle in their nests and feed them 
there. The Lasius flatus umbrams do even better. 
Rarely going abroad, and shunning the daylight 
no less than the termites, they have discovered 
plant-lice which have the same tastes, and which 
live exclusively on the roots of certain plants or 
trees. When necessary they go in search of them, 
driving tunnels through the soil, and when they 
have found . them they remove them to their 
subterranean cattle-sheds at the bottom of the 



ii 8 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

nest, and so the whole community lives very 
prosperously in the darkness. 

And here is something even more surprising: 
Pierre Huber, whose observations have since been 
confirmed by Mordnilke and Webster, was the 
first to remark that Lasius flavus collects the eggs 
and rears the young of its aphides, and that in 
case of panic it endeavours to save them as well 
as its own offspring. 



The aphides and the coccidas are not the only 
insects herded by the ants, for they have domesti- 
cated also certain small jumping insects. I will 
not weary the reader by enumerating them, but I 
must not omit to mention the manner in which 
various species of ants exploit certain caterpillars 
which secrete a saccharine fluid, and especially the 
Lycenidtf) the larvae of our Argus butterfly. They 
straddle the caterpillar, which for them represents 
a gigantic horse, and while the apocalyptic worm 
carelessly gorges itself with food, they caress with 
their antennas the last segment of its abdomen, 
which emits the honey-dew of which they are so 
fond. Every ant or it may be every squadron of 
ants will obstinately defend her steed against the 
parasites that attempt to approach it, and even 
against man himself. In India, before the rains, 
according to the observations of Mrs. Willy, they 
go forth in search of certain caterpillars which 



PASTORAL ANTS 119 

will eventually become beautiful blue butterflies, 
and carry them off by hundreds, sheltering them 
in their subterranean galleries, where they watch 
over their long sleep as chrysalises, until the 
emergence of the perfect insects, when they help 
them to escape from their sheaths as though they 
understood the mysteries of metamorphosis. 

Many myrmecologists insist that these things 
are due merely to chance, to lucky coincidences 
which have gradually been developed into routine. 
A worker, exploring in search of booty, comes 
upon a plant-louse; rashly and inquisitively, at- 
tracted by its sweetish odour, she feels it, tastes 
it, finds it good, and hits upon the secret of 
its mechanical reaction, She returns, and others 
follow her and imitate her; the custom spreads, 
and being established it becomes first a habit, and 
then an instinct, The theory is quite defensible, 
for where all is unknown we may hazard any 
explanation, But what human invention would 
hold out against such interpretations? 



CHAPTER VIII 

THE MUSHROOM-GROWERS 

i 

HERE the ants approach the methods of the 
termites, We know that the termites live on 
cellulose, but cannot digest it* They therefore 
entrust the preliminary assimilation either to the 
flagellated protozoa of which they harbour millions 
in their intestines, or to tiny fungi, whose spores 
they sow on a carefully prepared compost. Thus, 
in the heart of their nest, they grow enormous 
crops of cryptogams, as carefully selected as 
those raised by the cultivators of the common 
mushroom in the old quarries on the outskirts of 
Paris. 

Did the ants, who are geologically posterior to 
the termites, borrow the idea from them? It is 
quite possible that, having taken by surprise an 
enfeebled or ill-defended termitary, they found 
its mushroom-gardens in full growth, If they 
did not originate the idea, they at any rate under- 
stood its advantages. And is it not an added merit 
that the ant has no need of protozoa or fungi to 
assimilate her food? She was not confronted by 
one of those vital necessities which stimulate the 
intellectual faculties to their highest pitch, and 



THE MUSHROOM-GROWERS 121 

force them to work some despairing miracle; for 
her the culture of fungi was a simple and practical 
means of providing abundant, wholesome, and 
always fresh victuals in the very heart of the 
subterranean city. 

Let it be noted, by the way, that the fungi- 
cultural ants do not cultivate the same crypto- 
gams as the termites. The latter are acquainted 
only with an Agaric and a Xylara, which are not 
found in the formicary, We may be certain, there- 
fore, that the ants did not sow their beds with 
spores taken from a termitary; and hence it is 
very probable that both the ants and the termite 
derived the idea from a fortunate accident, by 
which they were intelligent enough to profit most 
abundantly. 



There are no fungicultural ants in Europe. 
They are found only in tropical America. Until 
the recent researches of Belt, Moller, Forel and 
Sampaio, and the revelations of Jacob Huber 
and Goeldij it was not known that they cultivated 
mushrooms. McCook, who was the first to observe 
them, believed that they confined their activities 
to gathering and cutting the leaves of certain trees, 
and this belief waa generally accepted. Thus, in 
treatises which date back more than forty years, 
and notably in the excellent work of Ernest Andr, 
they are known as Leaf-cutting ants, Visiting ants, 
Manioc ants. Parasol ants, Saaba, etc. 



122 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

They belong to the powerful tribe of the 
Attini: large ants with long legs, remarkably 
polymorphic, as voracious as they are ingenious. 
They have evolved apart from the rest of their 
kind, and are probably the descendants of certain 
of our European ants who were already living 
in what was to become America before a great 
cataclysm sundered the New World from the 
Old. They take no other food besides the fungi 
which they cultivate. Their lives are thus closely 
bound up with their subterranean gardens; and, 
on the other hand, their fungi, the Rhozites 
gongykphora^ or at all events their "kohlrabis," a 
sort of tiny capsule which forms on the ends of 
the filaments of mycelium, do not grow without 
their intervention. When the founder of a future 
community sets forth on her nuptial flight, she 
carries with her a little of her native soil, in the 
form of a tiny pellet of mycelium, which she sows 
in the chamber in which, as we shall presently 
see, she will cultivate cryptogams, nourishing 
them at first with her own substance, that is to 
say, with all the nourishment contained in her 
abdomen and in the powerful muscles (which are 
gradually absorbed) of the wings which she tears 
off on falling to the ground after her hymeneal 
flight. 

3 

In a nest of Atta^ Attini^ or Attine^^ three types 
of worker are found; the giants, who are some- 



THE MUSHROOM-GROWERS 123 

times more than two-thirds of an inch in length, 
do not go abroad, but defend the entrances to 
the nest; the medium-sized workers, who cut, 
dissect, and store the leaves; and the small 
workers, who do not leave the nest, but sow the 
spores and the supply of compost of which they 
make their mushroom-beds. 

The preparation of this compost demands 
infinite care. The workers triturate it, knead it, 
heap it up, and fertilize it with their excrement, 
and with starchy substances and manioc seeds, 
which activate its fermentation. Have you ever 
cultivated the common mushroom? It is not so 
easy as you would imagine, or as the handbooks on 
the subject would have you believe. These manuals 
pretend that it is enough to make a bed of horse- 
dung at the bottom of a drawer, and to spread it 
with mycelium, and in a few days' time the little 
white heads pop up all over the bed, like so many 
gnomes that were only waiting for the magician's 
word. As a matter of fact, five or six times out of 
ten nothing of the kind occurs; the manure is 
not ripe, it is too hot or too cold, too dry or too 
moist, the filaments are too young or too old, or 
secondary fermentations intervene, or a thunder- 
storm sterilizes the spores, and so on. In short, 
a certain experience is necessary, which is 
acquired only by practice; that is, by obser- 
vation, reflection, inquiry into the causes of fail- 
ure, the progressive correction of these causes, 
the study of the temperature, of the hygro- 



124 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

metric conditions, the light, the ventilation, and 
what not, 

Do not imagine that as much, and perhaps 
more, care is not necessary in the cultivation of 
the tiny cryptogams of the Attini^ which are far 
more fragile, far more evanescent than our large 
and robust agarics. 

To a German myrmecologist, Alfred Moller, 
we owe some curious observations of the manner 
in which the Acromyrme^ another fungicultural 
ant of southern Brazil, prepares her gardens, 
Each species, by the way, has its own method of 
procedure, its own technical tricks ; which proves 
once more that we have here something more 
than purely instinctive^or mechanical actions. 

On reaching the nest the Acromyrme^ by means 
of her mandibles, which she uses like scissors, 
begins by^. cutting the leaf into fragments about 
the size of her head. She then scrapes and peels, 
rubs and softens these fragments, and works 
them into a pellet, and manoeuvring this with 
her head and legs she pushes it into its proper 
place. In a few hours' time the mycelium that is, 
the white filaments of the mushroom-bed begins 
to make its appearance, and by the evening the 
pellets put in place that morning are covered 
with these filaments. 

But the ant obtains her nourishment not from 
the mycelium, the fine white filaments, nor even 
from the conidia or spores, but from what are 
known as the "kohlrabis": tiny globular masses, 



THE MUSHROOM-GROWERS 125 

which are a special, artificial, and exclusive product 
of myrmecaean fungiculture. In order to obtain 
this product it is essential to prevent the excessive 
proliferation of the mycelium; and to this task the 
smallest of the workers devote themselves, con- 
stantly pruning the growth. Sometimes, when 
their numbers are insufficient, they are out- 
stripped; they can no longer cope with the 
invader, and in order to escape asphyxiation they 
are forced to retreat before the advancing forest, 
carrying their larvae with them in order to save 
them from the filamentous plague; after which 
the "kohlrabis" are crushed and disappear, and 
the specialized nursery becomes a natural, unculti- 
vated mushroom-bed, like a deserted garden in 
which the weeds have got the upper hand, and 
have destroyed the garden flowers. 

You will realize that the cultivation of these 
fungi is a complicated business, requiring as much 
skill and experience as the cultivation of the 
giant chrysanthemums or the rare orchids which 
are the pride of our great horticulturists, But why 
simply because insects are in question must 
we not speak of invention, experience, under- 
standing, reasoning, intelligence? 



These things, it may be objected, are explained 
by tradition: by routine, whose fixation becomes 
instinct. In this case, as in many others, I do not 



126 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

think this explanation can be accepted. If there 
is routine or tradition, it must have begun one 
day with an intelligent action; it must have been 
formed gradually, like our own. The use of manure, 
for example, the knowledge that it stimulates 
vegetation, is not, I imagine, innate in the ant, 
any more than it is in ourselves. It will be sug- 
gested that the ants deposit their excrement here, 
there, and everywhere, and that their cultures 
profit by chance. But this is quite untrue. The 
fungicultural ants, like other ants, are most careful 
to carry all excretions, all detritus, all useless 
rubbish, out of the nest. Nothing could be cleaner, 
tidier, and more carefully kept than their sub- 
terranean cities. What they do in this case they 
do with full intention. Photographs taken by 
Dr. Jacob Huber clearly show an Atta^ who 
takes a fragment of mycelium between her fore- 
feet, and presses it against the tip of her abdomen, 
which, being previously curved forward, emits a 
brownish drop, which is immediately absorbed by 
the white mycelium. Huber saw her repeat this 
operation once or twice hourly. 

The truth is and the same might be said of 
many of the ant's actions the truth is that we 
are reluctant to admit that there are in the world 
other beings- whose intelligence or moral qualities 
give them as valid a claim as our own to a certain 
spiritual importance, and suggest that they may 
be destined to play some exceptional part in the 
world, to achieve some sort of immortality, to 



THE MUSHROOM-GROWERS 127 

nourish vague- and magnificent hopes. That they 
should share with us a privilege which we believe 
to be unique shatters our immemorial illusions, 
humiliates and discourages us. We see that they 
are born, live, perform their humble duties, and 
disappear, in their hundreds of milliards, without 
leaving a trace. No one troubles about them, and 
they have never attained any other goal than 
death. We are not willing to admit that it may be 
the same with us. We would rather believe that 
all is stupid, instinctive, automatic, irresponsible. 
One day we shall learn, as all the creatures that 
share this earth with us have already learned, 
to content ourselves with life. This will be the 
ultimate ideal, enlarged by all those which it 
will have absorbed; and we shall find, perhaps, 
when we know how to live it, that life is 
enough; and that at all events this ideal is as 
great as the majority of all other ideals, and 
less disappointing. 



5 

The Attini often live in enormous confederate 
nests. In that which Forel studied in Colombia 
the principal portion was sixteen to twenty feet 
in diameter and over three feet in height. It 
was flanked by tumuli of small dimensions, with 
accessory dwellings situated at a distance of two 
or three hundred yards from the parent nest. The 
ravages committed by these powerful ants are 



128 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

comparable to those of the termites, and only the 
vigour and luxuriance of the tropical vegetation 
could possibly survive their devastations. The 
tree which they attack is doomed; all the leaves, 
sawn off at the petiole, fall to the ground, where 
they are received by other ants, who cut them 
up on the spot into morsels of portable dimensions, 
and then, moving off in the shade of these scraps 
of foliage (whence their name of Parasol ants), 
they return in long files to their nest. In less 
than an hour all is finished; and from the 
devastated tree, which is now a bare skeleton, 
they pass on to its neighbour, which suffers the 
same fate. 

Once in the nest, the leaves are again cut up into 
very small fragments, and with these, when they 
have undergone further repeated triturations, the 
beds of the subterranean gardens are made. 

These gardens, could one enlarge them to the 
human scale, would seem like scenes from fairy- 
land. Imagine a submarine or lunar landscape, 
which under the microscope (as one of my Cali- 
fornian friends once showed me) reveals pale 
bluish depths in which a vermiform and globular 
vegetation grows luxuriously; here are sheaves 
and thickets of white, immobile, tentacular flames, 
ethereal flakes, and fluid efflorescences, sponges of 
downy snow, and a swarming, menacing tangle of 
bloodless larvas, which seem to be invading every- 
thing, yet do not move from their places; livid 
networks, cloudy tresses, impearled with trans- 



THE MUSHROOM-GROWERS 129 

lucid eggs, whose number increases from hour to 
hour. 

I must not forget to mention a curious Attinea^ a 
native of the Argentine: Atta Vollenweideri^ which 
has recently been studied by Dr. Carlos Bruch of 
Buenos Ayres. It cultivates its fungi not only in 
the depths of its subterranean nests, but on their 
surface, in the open air, The enormous cryptogam, 
Locellina Mazzuchi, which forms its exclusive 
nourishment, whose cap attains a diameter of 
twelve to sixteen inches, and may weigh as much 
as six or seven pounds, is never found elsewhere 
than on its nests; just as the Poroniopsis Bruchi^ 
another fungus of equal dimensions, grows only 
on the nests of another Atta^ Acromyrmex Heyeri^ 
which are never found without it. Here, as in 
many other connexions, it would be difficult to 
invoke chance and deny the intervention of a 
conscious and intelligent will. 



The founding of a fungicultural community is 
as difficult, as hazardous and heroic, as the found- 
ing of one of our European formicaries, and it is 
complicated by the necessity of cultivating the 
indispensable mushrooms. Jacob Huber and Pro- 
fessor Goeldi have continued and completed 
Moller's study of these communities. Their ob- 
servations relate to Atta sexdens. 

As soon as she is installed in her underground 

i 



1 3 o THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

lodge, the Atto in question disgorges her pellet of 
filament and proceeds to fertilize it in the manner 
already described. In a few days' time the pellet 
conies to life, emitting hyphae that is to say, 
fine white hairs in all directions. The mushroom- 
bed, once started, spreads rapidly, and the first 
eggs are laid on it. From this moment, until the 
formation and appearance of the first workers, the 
mother, the larvae, the nymphs, the patches of 
fungi, and even the eggs themselves, have no other 
nourishment than the eggs. It is a case of complete 
and exclusive and unavoidable ovivorism. Before 
any of the "kohlrabis" or globular masses of 
mycelium cultivated by the first workers are con- 
sumed, it is calculated that the mother lays two 
eggs hourly, and in all about two thousand, of 
which eighteen hundred are devoted to feeding 
the nascent colony. During this period the mother 
has nothing to eat but her own eggs, for neither 
she, nor her larvae, nor her nymphs touch the 
"kohlrabis" or the mycelium from which they 
are developed. What, then, is the secret of this 
making of something out of nothing of this 
creation in the true sense of the word? Where 
does the ant obtain the substance of these two 
thousand eggs, of which she herself consumes no 
more than three or four hundred, and which 
represent the weight of her body? What is the 
secret of this perpetual increase in vacuQ) no less 
extraordinary than perpetual motion would be? 
Is there something unknown to us outside her, 



THE MUSHROOM-GROWERS 131 

which supports and multiplies her life? Such 
phenomena are found only in the incredible 
world of insects. What is the explanation of 
this indisputable mystery? Hitherto no one has 
discovered it. 



CHAPTER IX 

AGRICULTURAL ANTS 

i 

HAVING described the fungicultural ants of the 
subsoil, I must not forget the makers of aerial 
gardens. These are small ants of five or six 
different species, whose extravagant names it is 
needless to enumerate. They are found, for the 
most part, on the banks of the Amazon, and they 
build their nests, which are round as balls, in 
the crutch of two or three branches, These nests 
would not be especially remarkable but for the 
fact that the ants sow in them the seeds of epi- 
phytes, which, as you may know, are small plants 
which appear to be parasitic, though they are not 
actually so, and belong to a family of which many 
of the orchids are members. These nests, we 
learn from Ule, who has made a special study of 
them, are like flowering sponges. He insists that 
it is quite impossible that the seeds should have 
been carried to the nests by the wind, or by birds, 
for these gardens are frequently made in areas 
where no epiphytes are found; moreover, the 
species of epiphyte grown in these nests refuses to 
flourish except in a soil prepared by the Atta. 
Another proof; when these ants are given a berry 



AGRICULTURAL ANTS 133 

plucked from their favourite plant, they suck the 
juice and carefully plant the kernel in their 
nest. 

They cultivate these plants not for the sake of 
their flowers or foliage, but in order to consolidate 
their nest by means of the fibrous tangle of the 
rootlets of these pseudo-parasites. Thanks to these, 
the balls of humus which serve them as lodging 
acquire a cohesion and solidity so great that they 
are able to resist the most violent tropical rains, 
no less than the scorching rays of the tropical 
sun. To tell the truth, however, the habits of 
these ants are still under discussion and await 
further observation. 



But the true agricultural ant is the insect 
wrongly known as the "Sower" ant, which is 
really a weeding ant; the Pogonomyrmex mole- 
faciens of Texas and the Pogonomyrmex barlatus 
of Mexico. I remember admiring a nest of 
Pogonomyrmex when walking one afternoon in the 
neighbourhood of Houston, Texas, where I broke 
my journey from New Orleans to Los Angeles. 
It is as well not to disturb this ant, for its sting 
injects a poison of whose nature little is known as 
yet, except that it is not formic acid, and that the 
effect is extremely painful. 

In the grassy plains, which are invaded by a 
dense and vigorous vegetation, they laboriously 



i 3 4 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

clear a circular area round their nest, from which 
beaten paths lead off into the scrub; and on this 
denuded area they permit nothing to grow except 
a single species of grass. Arista oligantha, com- 
monly known as ant-rice or needle-grass. 

Lincecum, who was the first to observe these 
ants, declares that they sow this grass, but 
McCook, whose observations are more recent, 
states that they content themselves with extermi- 
nating, by means of incessant weeding, all the 
other plants which grow amidst their favourite 
cereal. They live the life of true pioneers, being 
gardeners and agriculturists, and above all wood- 
cutters, for to these tiny insects the tall subtropical 
weeds are like gigantic trees, which they saw 
through at the base until they fall of their own 
weight. 

McCook's opinion is corroborated by Wheeler, 
who, during a sojourn of four years in Texas, had 
an opportunity of observing these ants at leisure, 
and of detecting the cause of Lincecum's mistake. 
The Mokfaciens do not seem to take the pre- 
cautions which are taken by the Harvester ants of 
Algeria or the South of France with a view to 
preventing, or at all events retarding, the germina- 
tion of the grain which they store in their granaries. 
When, after several days of rain, the seeds begin to 
germinate, and threaten to invade the nest, they 
hastily rid themselves of those that are no longer 
fit for consumption, and carry them some distance 
from the nest, depositing them on their refuse- 



AGRICULTURAL ANTS 135 

heaps, where, they take root, giving rise to the 
"rice-fields" which so puzzled the first explorers. 



3 

Besides these agricultural or horticultural ants, 
there are others which do not cultivate their grain, 
but only harvest it and store it in granaries. The 
ants of the colder countries do not, as is commonly 
believed, make provision for the winter; they 
spend that season in the depths of their nests, 
sinking into a torpor from which they do not 
awake until the spring : that is, until there is once 
more food to be obtained outside the nest. But 
other species, which inhabit warmer regions 
where the winter, though unfruitful, is less 
rigorous and does not make them torpid, take 
precautions, and make provision for the future. 
Of these ants one of the best known and most 
frequently studied is the Messor barlarus^ which 
is found in the South of France, and abounds in 
Algeria, where it is greatly dreaded. It has been 
studied by J. T. Moggridge, Escherich, Arthur 
Brauns, and Cornetz, This large ant stores in her 
underground granaries the seeds of various plants, 
picking them up off the ground, or even gathering 
them from their stems or peduncles, either twisting 
the latter, or shearing or sawing them through 
with the toothed seccator of her mandibles. A 
strict watch is kept at the entrances of the nest; 
the apprentices or novices who naively bring tiny 



136 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

pebbles, or scraps of broken crockery, or inedible 
seeds, are soundly snubbed, and told to take their 
useless burdens elsewhere. I need not describe 
the scenes enacted at the entrances to the galleries 
when an ant tries to carry in a seed in the husk, 
which is too large to pass, or the tip of an ear, 
which keeps on sticking in the passage. Such 
spectacles may readily be observed in the summer, 
between Saint-Raphael and Mentone, and for 
those who have enough imagination to transpose 
them to the human scale they are not the least 
entertaining to be witnessed on the Cote d'Azur. 

These seeds are heaped up, and sometimes 
methodically classified, in granaries which are 
more carefully cemented than the rest of the 
formicary, but are nevertheless rather damp 
during the rainy season. How do the Harvester 
ants prevent them from germinating? This is a 
problem which the myrmecologists have not as 
yet completely solved. Some say that the ants 
carry the seeds, when necessary, into a sort of 
drying-chamber situated near the surface of the 
nest; others insist that they subject them to 
a special preparation, which inhibits, without 
destroying, their power of germination : for they 
develop normally when sown outside the nest. 
Others, again, believe that they simply nibble off 
the radicles as they make their appearance, and 
even that it is this sort of malting process that 
renders them assimilable. In any case, the ants 
never eat the seeds in their dry state, but break 



AGRICULTURAL ANTS 137 

them up and triturate them, making them into a 
paste or very thick broth. Specialized soldiers, 
with large heads and enormous mandibles, are 
generally employed as bread-makers. And in this 
connexion, since the worst must be told with the 
best, I must mention a Harvester ant of the 
Pheidole family, whose revolting ingratitude and 
cruelty, habitual in the world of the bees and 
termites, is exceptional in that of the ants. When 
the summer is over, and these unfortunate 
pastrycooks are no longer of any use, the secret 
council of the community sentences them to be 
decapitated and thrown out of the nest; and when 
the spring returns the fecundated females are 
ordered to create their successors. 



THE WEAVER ANTS 

Properly speaking, they are arboreal rather than 
agricultural. They occupy a unique position. Here 
we have the very summit of art and industry. 
The Weaver ants, (Ecophyllas and Polyrhachis^ 
discovered, or rather made fully known to us less 
than thirty years ago, inhabit the tropical regions 
of Asia, Africa, and Australia, It has recently been 
demonstrated that the Camponotus senex of Brazil 
weaves its nest in the same fashion. The Weaver 
ants enjoy some popular regard in Indo-China, 
where the natives respect them and protect them, 
for they defend the plantations against the attacks 



I 3 8 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

of various parasites. They have been studied by 
Bugnion, Dofiein, Dodd, Karl Friedrichs, Goeldi, 
and others. 

In order to build their nest, they begin by 
fixing their choice on two or three leaves which 
they wish to join together, Their modus operandi 
has been fully described by Dodd. Taking up 
their position in a row on the edge of one of these 
leaves, to the number of a hundred if necessary, 
and holding firmly on to it, they seize the adjacent 
leaf with their mandibles. If they cannot reach it 
directly they make a number of living chains or 
bridges; one ant seizes her neighbour by the 
petiole, between the metathorax and the abdomen, 
until the mandibles of the ant so held are able 
to seize the other leaf and draw it nearer. When 
the edges of the leaves are touching, or are 
brought within what is considered a convenient 
and suitable distance from one another, they 
have still to be held in place. Now the weavers 
play their part. Each of them carries between 
her mandibles a larva which was preparing to 
weave its cocoon, and which has been dragged 
away from its personal preoccupations to perform 
a work of public utility. This is why the larvae 
and nymphs of the Weaver ants are always 
naked, all the available silk being requisitioned for 
the construction of the nest. By means of the 
still viscous thread secreted by her living shuttle, 
the weaver, moving the larva to and fro, joins 
and anchors the edges of the two leaves, The other 



AGRICULTURAL ANTS 139 

weavers, with, their larvae between their mandibles, 
perform the same operation along the whole length 
of the leaf; and the work is continued until the 
nest is completed, when it has the form of a 
huge cocoon, divided into an infinite number of 
chambers with silken walls and pillars. 



Here, then, we have the first example, in the 
animal world, of the employment of a tool. We 
shall find no other example among the insects, nor 
even among the mammals, which occupy the 
highest positions in the hierarchy of living 
creatures. It is true that an ape has sometimes 
been seen to make use of a stick in order to rake 
in a banana or a nut which was not within reach 
of his hand; but the action seems so precarious 
and uncertain, and inspired by such incoherent 
and fortuitous impulses, that it cannot be com- 
pared with the deliberate and methodical use of 
the distaff and shuttle. In no other domain have 
the ants approached so nearly to human intelli- 
gence. They have really crossed a barrier which 
seemed almost as inviolable as that of the use of 
fire. 

We are not surprised when the most intelligent 
of our domestic animals approach every day 
within a hand's-breadth of an idea without per- 
ceiving it. But how can we be sure that we our- 
selves do not pass by many ideas which to other 



HO THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

minds must appear as simple and elementary as 
the idea of the tool, but which we shall, perhaps, 
never perceive, although, as the children say, we 
are constantly "growing warm"? 

Will the ants go farther still? We may study 
their evolution from the palaeontological eras to the 
present day, but we cannot answer this question. 
Yet it is not impossible that in this direction the 
future holds, if not precisely dangers, yet shadows 
with which we shall have to cope. At all events, 
their progress will be so slow that when they 
become a menace we shall no longer exist; for 
everything seems to foretell that man, the last 
comer to this earth, will be the first to leave it 
going we know not whither. 



The Honey ants. Bottle ants, Bonbon ants or 
Reservoir ants of which I have already said some- 
thing in a former chapter have been given, by 
the entomologists, the less vulgar, less picturesque, 
less easily pronounced and less readily remembered 
name of Myrmecocystus melliger. 

We owe to McCook almost all that we know 
about these ants. Like the mushroom-growers, 
they love the hot regions of the earth, although 
Nature, in other climes, has tried her hand at 
experimental forms or imitations of the type; 
notably in dry countries, where they are almost 
indispensable to insects which have not yet 



AGRICULTURAL ANTS 141 

learned how <to make barrels, jars or bottles, and 
yet wish to keep a reserve of liquid nourishment. 

McCook studied these ants in the Hortus 
Deorum^ the Garden of the Gods of Colorado. 
They live exclusively on the drops of honey-dew 
exuded by the galls of a certain oak, the Quercus 
undulata^ and they gorge themselves until they 
have trebled or quadrupled the volume of their 
abdomen, Those which have distended their 
bodies to five or six times the normal volume 
are promoted to the rank of reservoirs; they are 
finally gorged in the nest until they are eight 
times the normal weight; after which they cling 
with their fore-legs to the roof of one of the 
ten or twenty honey-cellars excavated in the red 
sandstone, and remain hanging there until death, 
and even longer, for sometimes their claws do 
not relax their hold until two or three days after 
their decease. We can see the inconveniences, 
but we are inclined to ask what are the advantages 
of this onerous promotion. Are they to be found 
in the delights of regurgitation, in a phenomenal 
stupidity, in the satisfaction of a boundless vanity, 
or in the joys of absolute sacrifice? What in our 
world would seem improbable is not necessarily 
so in that of the ants. 

The ordinary insect is a fifth of an inch or more 
in length; swollen to bursting, she becomes trans- 
lucid, and attains the dimensions of a large 
currant or small grape, and this grape contains 
a honey which is, it appears, delicious, and is 



1 4.3 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

greatly sought after by the inhabitants of the 
country. 

The formicary explored by McCook, with its 
superimposed cellars and galleries, occupied a 
space of about ten feet in length, twenty inches 
in width, and forty inches in depth; it was entirely 
excavated in a red sandstone, moderately friable, 
but very much harder than vegetable humus. It 
contained ten cellars or honey-chambers, each 
containing some thirty living bottles. 

If one of these balloon-like insects becomes 
detached from the roof and falls heavily to the 
floor and bursts, the slender ants make haste to 
consume the sugary spoil. If she remains intact, 
she cannot raise herself from the ground, nor 
climb back to her post on the roof of the cellar. 
None of the other ants will touch her, and none 
will come to her assistance; so, waving her legs 
despairingly in the air, she finally perishes where 
she lies, lingering sometimes for several months. 
Then the slender ants divide the thorax from the 
abdomen, and without profaning it with their 
mandibles they roll the latter out of the nest to 
the place which serves them for cemetery, and 
there they leave it. 

This, in a few words, is as much as we know 
of their habits. I do not think the habits of the 
Selenites, or the inhabitants of the planets of 
Betelgeuse, would seem more surprising and 
inexplicable. 

Although here, as in so many other instances, we 



AGRICULTURAL ANTS 143 

find ourselves out of our depth, we need not there- 
fore be dejected. We shall never be more than the 
playthings of an hour, and we cannot hope to 
conceive of the absolute. What we have acquired 
we have acquired, and we have thousands, indeed 
millions, of years in which to discover the rest. 
After all, there are many problems more urgent 
than this, though all things are interrelated, and 
the least inscrutable reply to the least of questions, 
whether this reply came from Antares, from a 
"white dwarf," or from the formicary, would be of 
value in respect of all the things that concern us 
most nearly. 



To supplement the chapters devoted to the 
Weaver ants and Reservoir ants, we will briefly 
review a certain number of minor industries which 
have not hitherto been mentioned. We know 
that the organization of labour in the formicary 
is much more methodical and deliberate than the 
disorderly agitation which we commonly observe 
at the surface of the nest would lead us to believe; 
an agitation, by the way, which in nine cases out 
of ten may be imputed to our own presence, 
menacing as a cataclysm, to our untimely inter- 
vention, our inconsiderate gestures. In the dark- 
ness of the underground galleries each worker has 
her task, each knows exactly what she must do, and 
does it with due care. No sooner has she emerged 



H4 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

from her shell than the ant who was but lately a 
nymph, moving still uncertainly on legs that have 
not yet completely hardened, busies herself about 
the eggs, larvae, and pupse, which she feeds, turns 
over, and moves from place to place, brushing, 
combing, and cleaning them incessantly. She will 
not venture from the nest until her limbs and her 
chitinous cuirass are sufficiently hard, She will 
then become explorer, scout, shepherd, purveyor, 
gardener, mushroom-grower, harvester, navvy, 
mason, carpenter, honey-jar, warrior, nurse, house- 
keeper, etc., according to her race, her vocation, 
her aptitude, or the orders of the central in- 
telligence. 

But sometimes her specialization is so emphatic 
from her very birth that it modifies the structure of 
her body. These modifications are less general, but 
often as profound and radical as in the termites. 
Certain workers are provided by predestination 
with special tools, accordingly as they have to saw, 
cut, dissect, bore, or triturate. Those who are to be 
soldiers acquire mandibles twice or thrice the size 
of the normal mandibles. Others possess spring 
mandibles which enable them to jump like fleas, 
thereby escaping from their disconcerted adversary. 
A little-known inhabitant of the virgin forests of 
Brazil, the mysterious Gigantiops destructor^ an ant 
with large eyes, leaps from branch to branch, and 
an Indian ant, Harpegnatus cruentatus, can jump 
twenty inches by means of her mandibles. 

There are ants covered with spines, and ants 



AGRICULTURAL ANTS 145 

provided with sheaths which protect their fragile 
antennae. Inhabitants of the desert, who have to 
spend much of their lives in carrying grains of 
sand, are provided with enormous heads, spade- or 
spoon- or dome-shaped. We have only to assemble 
on a sheet of paper a few faces belonging to 
different species of workers or soldiers, and we 
have a collection of masks such as no carnival 
mask-maker of Nice or Venice has ever imagined. 



One of the most curious of these masks is that 
worn by the soldier who is also a doorkeeper. 
Or, to be precise, she is not a doorkeeper, but her 
head, monstrously specialized, is itself the door, 
fitting exactly, like a stopper, into the entrance to 
the nest. If this nest is installed in a stem of 
bamboo, for example, the head of the doorkeeper 
assumes the appearance and colour of the stem; 
if it is in the trunk of an old pear tree it is 
camouflaged like the bark of the pear tree. We 
find a whole series of intermediary forms, from 
the full doorkeeper or living door, to the semi- 
doorkeeper, the deputy doorkeeper, the candidate, 
the amateur, etc., whose organs appear to deter- 
mine their destiny unless indeed it is the destiny 
that determines the organs. 

Quite recently the myrmecologists have dis- 
covered, or believe they have discovered, a still 
more unexpected kind of specialist: the ant- 



146 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

fireman. An observer to whom we owe more than 
one interesting and conscientious contribution to 
the science, Mme, Marguerite Combes, the 
daughter of the great botanist, Gaston Bonnier, 
in a note published in the Journal de psychologic 
normals et pathologique, and in certain communica- 
tions made to the Societe Entomologique, sum- 
marized and completed in a paper which appeared 
in the Revue des Deux Mondes for April i, 1930, 
declares that she has on several occasions seen a 
troop of Formica ruja^ in the enclosure of the 
Laboratoire de Biologie V^getale at Fontainebleau, 
attack and extinguish, by emissions of formic 
acid, sometimes in ten seconds, sometimes in as 
many minutes, a lighted taper placed upon their 
nest. The first ants to attack the flame often 
perish, the victims of their devotion to duty. In 
other experiments the ants, in the presence of 
witnesses, extinguished a large night-light, such as 
is used for warming food. These experiments, 
when repeated, gave always the same results; but 
it must be added that this ability to extinguish 
a flame seems to be exceptional; indeed, of six 
nests of Formica rufa established in the enclosure 
of which Mme. Combes speaks, only one defi- 
nitely possesses it and retains it year after year. 

At first sight the thing seems incredible. How 
can we admit that ants have any notion of fire ? 
Normally there has never been such a thing as 
fire in a formicary. For that matter, fire could 
only be the result of lightning, or of a conflagra- 



AGRICULTURAL ANTS 147 

tion involving forest or plain, so that the ants 
could become acquainted with it only by perishing 
in the flames; they could never have an opportunity 
of acquiring an experience of fire. 

Nevertheless, it is possible to explain their 
behaviour. It has often been observed that when 
they are confronted, for example, with a drop of 
a liquid whose odour inconveniences them, they 
throw pellets of earth or debris over it until it 
is absorbed. Is it not an analogous reflex if we 
can give the name of reflex to an action so plainly 
intelligent which makes them act as they do in 
the presence of a flame ? 

Mme. Combes is of opinion that her Formica 
rufa have gradually become familiarized with 
fire owing to the cigarette-ends frequently thrown 
on to their nest. It is quite possible that this very 
simple explanation is the most acceptable. In any 
case, it does not detract from the ingenuity 
displayed by the formicary. 

The experiments which I have made in this 
connexion gave but doubtful results. They were 
carried out in the pine-woods on the outskirts of 
Nice, where there are great numbers of ant-hills. 
If such facts were definitely confirmed and classi- 
fied we should have to regard them as the most 
important and the most disconcerting revelations 
which have hitherto been afforded us by animal 
psychology. 

Formica rufa is very abundant in the woods of 
Peira-Cava, which lie above Nice, near the Italian 



148 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

frontier, running up to an altitude of five thousand 
feet. One can hardly walk twenty paces without 
coming upon one of their mounds of pine-needles, 
which are twenty to thirty inches in height. Here 
I recently made some thirty experiments, with 
candle-ends of different thicknesses, tapers, and 
wax night-lights. 

A candle-end, about an inch in length, when 
lighted and placed on the summit of the nest, 
was at once furiously attacked by the first workers 
to perceive it; the alarm spread, and presently an 
agitated crowd of ants formed a circle round the 
area, about the size of a half-crown, in which the 
flame to their eyes enormous, being three or 
four times the length of their own bodies gave 
off an intolerable heat. Every moment a worker, 
with lowered head, flung herself into the infernal 
circle. One heard a crackling sound, and the 
insect's body curled up and burned like a match. 
Others, in increasing numbers, followed this 
heroic example, or stuck fast and died, asphyxiated 
or boiled alive, in the sheet of molten wax which 
was gradually spreading round the candle-end. 
Finally the flame was extinguished spontaneously, 
when the wick, deprived of support, drooped and 
fell over. But I could never see that the ants 
helped in any way to extinguish it. I must, indeed, 
confess that I do not see how they could do so, 
since before they could get near enough to do 
anything they perished, roasted or asphyxiated. 
One ought perhaps to experiment with a very 



AGRICULTURAL ANTS 149 

small flame, in proportion to their own size; but 
then this flame would be so fragile, so precarious, 
that by brushing past it or running over it they 
might extinguish it without any definite intention 
of so doing. 

One thing, at all events, I did observe, and that 
was their reckless and superhuman heroism. Others 
will doubtless make more conclusive experiments, 
I discontinued mine because to me they seemed 
to be needlessly cruel. 

I am told that in certain forests, and notably in 
those of Compigne and Fontainebleau, Formica 
rufa is becoming increasingly rare. The collectors 
of ants' eggs, or rather cocoons, which are used 
in the rearing of pheasants, are waging a merciless 
war on the species. It is high time that the law 
intervened, as it has in Prussia, in order to save 
this fine ant, which has been called u the policeman 
of the forests,'* from complete destruction. A 
conscientious myrmecologist, M. Robert Stumper, 
has calculated that a single nest of Formica rufa 
destroys every day more than fifty thousand 
noxious insects: hymenoptera, microlepidoptera, 
caterpillars, etc. 



Since at the end of this chapter we have rather 
wandered away from our agricultural ants, we 
may permit ourselves a further digression. 

When we see ants bustling about the nest whose 



150 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

peace we have troubled, and transporting, with 
incredible facility, up and down the most precipi- 
tous gradients, cocoons twice their own size, or 
carrying and arranging, with the greatest ease, 
with the tips of their mandibles, so to speak, pine- 
needles or fragments of wood which to us would 
represent beams or posts which two or three 
men could barely handle, we believe them to be 
endowed with a muscular force which hitherto we 
have estimated to be eight or ten times as great 
as our own. It is possible that we are wrong. I 
have recently received a communication from a 
Swedish engineer which throws a different light 
on the subject. 

Take a man six feet in height. This man can 
without difficulty carry a ball of iron some eight 
inches in diameter, weighing about 80 Ib, Reduce 
this man to one-thousandth of his size: he will be 
only a fourteenth of an inch in height, and the 
weight of his ball, reduced in the same measure, 
will be about an ounce and a quarter, while its 
diameter will be four-fifths of an inch. From this 
it would seem to follow that man, reduced to one- 
thousandth of his size, would be incomparably 
stronger than the ant, since he would be able to 
carry an object ten times his own size. 

These calculations have been sharply criticized; 
and as a matter of fact the engineer himself has 
been guilty of a flagrant error. He applies a linear 
reduction to a weight : that is to say, to a volume. 
In the example which he suggests the reduction to 



AGRICULTURAL ANTS 151 

one-thousandth gives a homunculus one fourteenth 
of an inch in height carrying a sphere one hundred 
and twentieth of an inch in diameter a mere 
speck of metallic dust, barely visible to the naked 
eye. 

This flagrant error is interesting, because it is 
the error into which we all instinctively fall when 
we see ants carrying objects three or four times 
their own size. In multiplying their size and the 
presumed weight of the object by a thousand 
we make, inversely, the same erroneous calcula- 
tion. We do not think of the insect's weight as 
a rule we are ignorant of this but thinking only 
of its size, as this is all that we can see, we multiply 
or divide one value by another with which it has 
nothing in common. It is the weight of the man 
that we ought to divide by a thousand: which 
would give us a man weighing from three to 
three and a quarter ounces. What would be his 
height? Here, as one of my correspondents 
observes, mathematics is at a loss, for the sub- 
stance of the man is not homogeneous, nor his 
structure homothetic. 

The problem, moreover, is more complex than 
one would suppose. In 190,2 Victor Cornetz 
published an article on the subject in the Mercure 
de France which explains the matter better than I 
can. He observes that the weight of the ant is in 
proportion to the cube of its linear dimensions. 
"An ant one-third the size of its fellows is twenty- 
seven times lighter; now, its muscular strength is 



1 52 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

not diminished in the same proportion; it depends 
on the square of its linear dimensions; that is, the 
small insect is 'absolutely' only nine times weaker 
than the large one. One of the dimensions of its 
muscles their length does not enter into the 
evaluation of its strength. The smaller the creature, 
provided its proportions remain about the same, 
the more advantageous is this relation of the 
weight to the cube of the linear dimensions, a 
relation which is of prime importance in our 
argument; and the larger the creature, the greater 
the disadvantage. " 

Yves Delage (in the Revue Scientifique for 
July 19, 1912), who quotes Victor Cornetz, shows 
that an ant which can carry a grain of wheat ten 
times its own weight would be able to carry 
only a hundredth part of its own weight if it were 
enlarged to a thousand times its present size. It 
would then be a hundred times weaker than a 
man or a horse. 



CHAPTER X 

PARASITES 



ATTRACTED and detained by the comfort, 
abundance, warmth, and security of the nest, 
encouraged by a general mildness of behaviour 
which one might take to be weakness or imbecility 
if it were not so often heroic or ingenious, the 
parasites of the formicary exist in bewildering 
abundance. At the present time we know of 
more than two thousand species, and incessant 
discoveries, above all among the tropical insects, 
are daily adding to this number. The study of 
these parasites, to which articles and columns 
have been devoted whose enumeration would fill 
five or six pages, forms one of the most crowded 
and fantastic chapters of myrmecology. I shall not 
linger over it here, save to cite a few observations 
which will throw an indirect yet sometimes vivid 
light on the still very confused and bewildering 
psychology of the ant, Parasitism, for that matter, 
appears to be one of the fundamental laws of 
Nature, one of her favourite methods; and Pro- 
fessor J, M. Clarke has found traces of it in the 
marine animals of the Cambrian deposits: that 
is to say, at the very beginnings of life. This 



154 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

discovery is not calculated to give us a very 
consoling idea of the moral nobility of our 
universal mother, but it is incontestable, and has 
a claim upon our attention. 

Our ants, naively and rashly hospitable, keep 
open house; all are welcome to their table, so to 
speak; and they themselves set the example of 
parasitism by sponging on one another. A few 
species but only a few, we must admit live 
solely at the expense of other more obstinately 
honest and laborious races. I will not return to 
the case of the Sanguines, the Amazons, and others 
of their kind; here we have a special sort of 
parasitism, or rather, a sort of voluntary collabora- 
tion, in which the one species feeds the community 
while the other defends it. Passing over the 
dwarf Dorymyrmex pyramica, a comparatively in- 
offensive ant, I will mention the Solenopsis fugax, 
whose criminality is of the basest type. Living 
always underground, she is almost blind, and so 
small that she escapes the notice of the unfortunate 
insects who give her shelter; they neither see her 
nor detect her with their antennae. She bores her 
tiny galleries in the partitions of the nests of 
larger species : amongst others, the Formica fusca. 
Choosing a propitious moment, she pops out of 
the wall, as in a grisly fairy-tale, quickly carries 
off an egg, returns to her lair, and there de- 
vours it undisturbed, for the victims of these 
incessant thefts cannot force their way into her 
narrow corridors. It astonishes us that these large 



PARASITES 155 

ants do not take any preventive or defensive 
measures against the Lilliputian but pitiless ogres. 
Are they too busy, too wholly absorbed in their 
labours to realize what is happening? Does it 
never occur to them to enlarge the corridors or 
wall up their entrances ? The problem, I believe, 
has not yet been studied in an artificial formicary. 
At any rate, when we overturn one of these 
double nests we are still more astonished to find 
that it is the assassins who avenge themselves, 
biting furiously at the parents whose offspring 
they have massacred. Once more we have the 
impression of witnessing a drama enacted on 
another planet. 



With the Bothriomyrmex decaf itans^ observed by 
Santschi, and adorned by a name as barbarous as 
her habits, we do not leave our own planet, but 
find ourselves in the early Middle Ages. Emitting 
an odour resembling that of her victims, as 
though Nature had premeditated the crime that 
she commits, she takes advantage of this fact 
on returning from her nuptial flight, in order to 
enter with impunity the nest of the Tapinoma 
erraticum or nigerrimum^ a virtuous, confiding and 
laborious insect. Very much smaller than the 
Tapinoma, but full of impudence, as though she 
were already wearing the crown, she rapidly makes 
her way to the chambers in which the eggs and 



156 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

larvae are laid out, goes up to the peaceful queens, 
overpowers one of them, perching herself astride 
her back, and proceeds to saw through her 
neck, between the base of the head and the 
pronotum. The head falls. Terrified, the other 
queens escape, with a portion of their subjects. 
The workers who remain faithful to their natal 
home adopt the intruder, who at once begins to 
lay. The autochthonous race gradually becomes 
extinct, and the nest of Tafinoma becomes a 
colony of Bothriomyrmex. 

We must not judge the ants by such ferocious 
examples as these. Of the more than six thousand 
species which have been observed, there are not 
in all more than a dozen which never work and 
live solely to the detriment of others. Let us 
admit that the proportion is a modest one, and 
that among human beings it would be less 
flattering. 

3 

Although her biography is less dramatic than 
that of Bothriomyrmex decafitans, I cannot pass 
Anergates atratuhs over in silence, for she is an 
insect of some celebrity in the annals of entomo- 
logy. She is a parasite of a more bourgeois 
character: the type of the parasite by predestina- 
tion. The queens of this species do not produce 
workers, but only females and males who think 
solely of love, do no work, and are incapable of 



PARASITES 157 

feeding themselves. Barely fecundated, still agile, 
and entering unperceived, one of these queens 
makes her way into the nest of a laborious race, 
Tetramorium CSpitum> and there, we do not know 
why, she is very favourably received. Being 
abundantly fed, her ovaries develop in an extra- 
ordinary fashion; she swells up like a balloon, or 
rather like a termite queen ; she grows monstrous 
and incapable of moving, so that her maids of 
honour have to carry her. Before long the nest 
is encumbered with her eggs, for she never ceases 
laying. The Tetramorium workers neglect their 
own larvae for the benefit of this alien progeny, 
and sometimes even sacrifice their queens to the 
intruder. Why this preference, why this fatal 
aberration? Although Von Hagens was able to 
observe the same nest for several years in succes- 
sion, and although such sagacious myrmecologists 
as Adlerz, Wasmann, Janet, Wheeler, Crawley, 
and Forel have studied the insect, they have not 
yet found a satisfactory answer to these questions. 
Other examples might be cited : notably Formica 
microgyna, a temporary parasite, discovered by 
Wheeler, which is readily adopted by Formica 
fusca\ in the end she supplants the latter, giving 
birth to a colony which retains no trace of its 
discreditable origin. "A perfect replica," adds 
Wheeler, "of certain human institutions, which, 
beginning with a timid and flagrant parasitism, 
acquire, in the course of the centuries, an 
exuberant and insolent preponderance/* 



158 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

Other parasites, the Platyarthri^. which are 
sometimes of considerable size, and which, if 
they are not harmful, at all events perform no 
service, appear to have the singular gift of render- 
ing themselves invisible to the eyes of the ants. 
Although they swarm in the nest, the ants pay 
no attention to them, and pass through the midst 
of them as though they did not exist. But the 
Platyarthri are not relatives or allies; so their 
proper place is in the following section. 



This parasitism of alien species has other 
surprises of the most unexpected and varied 
nature in store for us, and once more we seem 
to be transported into other worlds and other 
ages. 

To begin with, I must mention, without enter- 
ing into details, a legion of little spongers, petty 
profiteers, infinitesimal cheats and sharpers, who 
are sometimes persecuted if too impudently 
dangerous and harmful, but are more often 
tolerated, even if they are a nuisance, and who live 
modestly enough on the debris of the nest, or 
filch a drop of syrup, or pass their time in licking 
up the nutritive secretions of their hosts. They 
are like larvae furnished with legs, or crabs, or 
crickets, or shrimps, or lobsters, and are com- 
paratively gigantic, since they are almost as large 
as the ants; and all this infernal menagerie 



PARASITES 159 

swarms freely in the nest, and the busy and long- 
suffering ants raise no objection to its presence. 
They are even ready at all times to encourage 
the profiteering of these creatures. Thus, when 
Atehra jormicaria^ a fat, ugly, conical maggot, 
sees that two workers are facing up for regurgita- 
tion, it rears itself between their mandibles in 
order to intercept part of the regurgitated drop. 
Far from maltreating the intruder, the ants politely 
wait until it has partaken of its share. They 
behave, in the same way to the inexplicable 
Antennophores, which have been studied by 
Janet, Wasmann, Karavaieff and Wheeler. These 
parasites, which I have already mentioned in 
"The Life of the White Ant," are carried by a 
great many Lasius mixtus. They are a kind of 
louse, proportionately enormous, for they are often 
as large as the head of their victim. As a general 
thing three will be found on the same Lasius; 
they install themselves methodically, one under 
the chin, and the other two on either side of 
the abdomen, so that they shall not hamper the 
movements of their protector, who tends and 
feeds them as though they were her own off- 
spring. 

I must add, however, that some of these fantastic 
guests render certain services: they consume the 
ordures of the nest, or rid their patrons of the 
microscopic mites which prey upon them, or make 
war on the invisible vermin that swarm in the 
porous galleries. 



160 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 



But the bulk of the army of parasites consists 
of coleoptera of all shapes and sizes, which have 
had time since we find them already extant in 
the fossil amber profoundly to modify their 
organs in order to adapt them exclusively to 
the parasitic life which they have been leading for 
millions of years. Their antennas, for example, are 
thickened, in order the more effectively to solicit 
regurgitation, or to serve as handles to facili- 
tate transport; for these parasites are extremely 
lazy and never walk, but make their adorers carry 
them; the tongue is shortened, the mouth is 
enlarged, and the thorax is covered with hairs of 
a special nature, in order that the aromatic and 
etheric secretions which constitute the magical 
charm of these strange acolytes shall be more 
generously diffused. Some of these coleoptera 
the European Atemeks and the American Xenodus 
even choose their holiday resorts, and have 
two addresses, spending the winter with the 
Formica and the summer in the nests of the 



Already we know of three or four hundred 
species of such parasites, though little is known 
as yet of those which exist in tropical countries. 
The ants regard them with such adoration, such 
passionate devotion, that they give the larvae of 
their favourites even more attention than their 
own, and in the event of danger these larvae are 



PARASITES 161 

the first to be carried to a place of safety. These 
parasites are the sole blemish, the one great vice 
of the virtuous, chaste, austere, sober, and laborious 
republic, and sometimes they constitute a veritable 
social scourge, as deadly and as fatal to the race 
as the alcoholism of human beings. They would 
infallibly be the cause of ruin and death in every 
colony which they infest, were it not that a 
fortunate chance, or a providential error of 
Nature, has restricted their powers of prolifera- 
tion. Firstly, not content with regurgitation, they 
commonly devour the offspring of their hosts; and 
secondly, the workers, whom they demoralize, 
seducing them to a sort of etheromania, no longer 
give the royal larvae the meticulous attentions 
which they require; so that these larvae, being 
insufficiently nourished, produce only pseudo- 
gynes that is, degenerate and infertile females. 
Under these conditions, then, it would seem that 
certain races, notably the Sanguines, which are 
especially given to associating with these disastrous 
pensioners, ought to have disappeared; whereas, on 
the contrary, they are more numerous than the 
other species, and are found in all parts of the 
world. It was Wasmann who discovered the 
explanation of the enigma. The Sanguines treat 
their own larvae and those of their housemates in 
the same fashion. When they are on the point of 
moulting and becoming nymphs, they bury them 
all together, and leave them to spin their cocoons. 
When the nymphosis has been accomplished they 



162 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

exhume them, wash them, and lay them out in 
the nest. But the nymphs of the coleoptera perish 
if they are exhumed after nymphosis, so that the 
only ones to escape death are those which the 
workers have been unable to find. 



This curious fact has given rise to much dis- 
cussion in myrmecological circles. Wasmann, a 
Jesuit, sees in it a proof of the ants' lack of 
intelligence, and a manifestation of the Divine 
wisdom which maintains the equilibrium of 
Nature. Wheeler, supported by Hobhouse, the 
author of "Mind in Evolution," declares that the 
absurdity of an ant who feeds the parasites that 
destroy her offspring is not greater than that of 
a mother who thinks to assure the happiness of 
her daughter by selling her to a multi-millionaire, 
an inquisitor who burns a heretic in a spirit of 
Christian charity, or an emperor who, in the 
name of civilization, orders his troops to give no 
quarter. It is a fact that if we were to compare 
our blunders, our imbecilities, and our illogical 
absurdities with those of the ants, the comparison 
would not necessarily be to our advantage. Never- 
theless, I think we can defend the ant's behaviour 
without resorting to extremes. It is natural 
enough that the unsuspecting Sanguines, in 
attending to the needs of thousands of larvae, 
all very much alike, should treat them all in the 



PARASITES 163 

same fashion.. It is asking too much of her to 
demand that after the sacrifice of the parasite 
nymphs she should realize her mistake. Men have 
committed more serious mistakes century after 
century, and have not yet corrected them. For that 
matter, we may believe that experience has not as 
yet engraven itself upon the instinct of the insect 
because there was an occult but important reason 
why it should not be so engraven. Have we not 
already seen for example, in the case of the 
mushroom-growing and pastoral ants that the 
insect is as capable as we are of fixing the lessons 
of the past in its atavic memory when these 
lessons are really useful ? 



It must be added that Nature does not always 
thus benevolently provide the remedy as well as 
provoking the evil. The excessive tolerance of 
certain colonies, above all when the parasites 
are congeneric, sometimes leads to their extinc- 
tion. In the chapter (II) entitled "The Secret 
of the Formicary" I spoke of the Whederidla 
Santschii. By means of antennal caresses this ant 
wins the favour of the Monomorium Salomon}^ 
which prefer her to their own lawful queens, 
whom they proceed to suppress. After which she 
begins to lay her eggs, and replaces the original 
race by her own. But as the workers of Wheekriella 
do not work, the whole usurping colony ends by 



164 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

dying of inanition in the very climax.of its triumph. 
We find analogous examples among other races 
of the AnergateS) as the entomologists call them : 
that is to say, without workers. Fortunately for 
the future of the myrmecaean species, these races 
are rather feeble and by no means abundant, 

We may note, in passing, that among the social 
insects the bee, thanks to her formidable sting 
and perhaps also because she possesses only a 
rudimentary collective organ is almost exempt 
from parasites. The termite, on the other hand, 
more puritanical, more disciplined, assuredly less 
generous, less ingenious, less fanciful and less 
artistic than the ant, tolerates a small number 
only, which appear to be furnished with odorif- 
erous glands. 



In the midst of all these innumerable and 
multiform parasites, generally hideous, often 
dangerous, or at least of suspicious character, 
and always an encumbrance, the intimate life of 
the formicary must assuredly be very different 
from our own. It passes in a perpetual nightmare, 
a frightful but perhaps a thrilling fairyland, in 
endless haunted underground passages, where 
spectres and phantoms and apparitions more 
demoniacal than those of the temptation of St. 
Anthony issue from the walls, lie in wait at every 
corner, lurk in every corridor, invade every 



PARASITES 165 

chamber, caressing but avid, a creeping, gallows 
crew, offering, in exchange for honey, the equivocal 
pleasures of perfumes or noxious drugs. It is 
difficult for us to imagine what it would be like, 
on returning from our day's work, to find our 
home peopled by two thousand different monsters, 
each more hideous than the rest, and behaving 
as though they were in their own home, whose 
fixed and organic idea, whose sole raison d'ttre^ 
was to live at our expense. While we are quite 
unable to understand it, we note the fact that the 
intelligent ant, far from purging her nest, as she 
could at a single blow, of all this phantasmal 
circus, this ignoble and ruinous masquerade, 
actually favours and encourages it, takes pleasure 
in it, and regards it as an indispensable luxury, 
the reward of her toil, the ornament and the joy 
of her house; and the more intelligent, industrious, 
wealthy and intelligent she is, the more complete 
her complaisance, and the greater the impunity 
of her parasites. For that matter, her complaisance 
does not as a rule appreciably affect her prosperity, 
for the kindly Formica fusca y more indulgent than 
any of her sisters to the fraternity of professional 
spongers, is even more numerous and more 
cosmopolitan than the Sanguine, who is herself 
addicted to the stupefying drugs of the coleoptera. 
But we are not competent to understand the 
mystery. As I have said, our inner and pro- 
founder life, our only real life, does not revolve 
in the same direction. All our vices arise from 



166 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

egoism, instead of being the excesses of altruism. 
Those who are ruined by their kindness and 
tolerance are regarded as saints or madmen: that 
is, as abnormal. Of all the social animals, man is 
alone in not being the victim of any parasite; 
that is, of any parasite of approximately his own 
dimensions, for the infinitesimal vermin to be 
found everywhere, even on the parasites of 
parasites, do not count. It would seem that 
being the parasite far excellence^ the greatest 
parasite on earth, he has hitherto been able to 
hold the rest in respect or subjection. We have 
reserved for ourselves alone the advantages of 
parasitism, and we exercise them only among 
ourselves ; but the practice of the art loses nothing 
thereby. It is obvious that if we behaved as the 
ants do we should not hold out very long. They 
must therefore be very much stronger than we are, 
or their organs have been conceived on another 
plan, in prevision of the excesses of kindness of 
which they are guilty; for if we had been equally 
kind we should have disappeared in the dawn 
of our existence. 



EPILOGUE 



HERE, then, more or less, are the essential features 
of the life of the ants; a life incontestably superior 
to that of the bees, which is precarious in the 
extreme, cruelly laborious, marred by frequent 
sickness, and at best very brief; and also to that 
of the termites, a ferocious, incarcerated exis- 
tence, barbarous, furtive, and merciless. 

Let us suppose for a moment that our senses 
were adapted to the environment in which they 
delight, that our eyes loved the darkness, our 
palates the food, and our nostrils the odours which 
they prefer: what would a life of this kind mean 
to us, if all were enlarged to our own scale? 
Compared with our own, would it be more or 
less endurable, more or less futile, more or less 
explicable, more or less disheartening? Unless 
indeed the discoveries or revelations which the 
centuries yet before us may perhaps bring to 
humanity should effect a singular improvement 
and transformation in our bodies and our souls, 
and without taking into account a survival that is 
becoming more and more doubtful, and promises 
of a future life which for thousands of years have 
been broken, I believe that the ant is far less 
unhappy than the very happiest of men. Her 



168 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

mother, when she founded her colony in the terror 
and torment of which we have had a glimpse, 
would seem to have paid once and for all the 
grievous tribute which we pay all our lives. The 
ordeal once endured, destiny makes no further 
demands, whereas the troubles of man are reborn 
with each succeeding day. 

To begin with and this is very important 
her health and vitality are indestructible and 
unfailing. A decapitated ant will survive for 
twenty days, and keep on her legs till the last. 
Her body, enclosed in a shell tougher than our 
thickest armour, is endowed with fibrous entrails 
and viscera, and its digestive functions our own 
abominable blemish are reduced to such a point, 
and are so perfect, that they leave hardly any 
residue. She is simply a bundle of muscles and 
nerves, and we cannot even conceive of the energy 
accumulated in her limbs. She is endowed with 
such an excess of power that as Remy de Gour- 
mont has remarked she ignores the laws of 
gravity, climbing and descending a vertical plane 
as though she were moving on a flat surface. She 
knows nothing of our epidemics and all our 
maladies. We do not even know when she is 
dead, so easily does she come to life again. Miss 
Fielde has made some rather cruel but convincing 
experiments in this connexion. Four ants out of 
seven returned to life after they had been a week 
under water. Others she compelled to fast, giving 
them only water on a sterilized sponge. Nine 



EPILOGUE 169 

Formica sulsericea survived for seventy and even a 
hundred and six days. A large number of ants 
were subjected to this ordeal, but there were only 
three cases of cannibalism ; and on the twentieth, 
the thirty-fifth, the fortieth, and the sixty-second 
day of their fast, when half dead of starvation, 
some still continued to give, by regurgitation, a 
drop of honey to those of their comrades whose 
condition seemed desperate. 

They are sensible only to cold, which does not, 
however, kill them, but sends them to sleep, and 
enables them to wait for the return of the sun in 
an economical state of torpor. 



Apart from the great natural catastrophes 
frost, excessive drought, flood, famine and fire, 
which threaten all living creatures apart from 
wars between peoples, which often end in adop- 
tion and beneficent alliance, the ant, dreaded by 
all, has few enemies to fear. Having entered her 
home, that subterranean refuge which must be 
enlarged to our human scale before we can realize 
its advantages, she has nothing more to dread, for 
there she finds peace and abundance and perfect 
fraternity. Despite all the perturbations and 
abnormal stimulations to which I have subjected 
ants in artificial nests, it was necessary, before I 
could incite them to the beginnings of a civil war, 
to bewilder them completely, to make them 



1 70 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

utterly lose their heads, to inflict upon them trials 
which no human brain would have resisted. 
Normally, two ants of the same republic have 
never been known to fight, to quarrel, to lose 
patience, to forget their amenity. Whereas the 
queen bee cannot rest until she has massacred her 
rivals, the ant queens live in concord and treat 
one another as sisters. When the ants have to 
resolve on a course of action on which the fate of 
the community may depend; when they decide 
to abandon their home, to migrate, or to under- 
take some perilous expedition, they strive to con- 
vince those who do not share their opinion by 
antennal caresses, and above all by example. At 
such times, as Michelet truly says and this time 
he is guilty of no excess of sentimentality they 
will carry off the recalcitrant ant, "who offers no 
resistance, and will transport her to the place or 
object appointed. In this case, when the thing 
intended is doubtless difficult to believe pr explain, 
the auditor, being convinced, joins herself to the 
other, and both proceed to carry off other witnesses, 
who in turn do the same to others, in ever- 
increasing numbers. Our parliamentary expres- 
sions, to carry away the crowd y to transport one*$ 
audience^ etc., are by no means metaphorical in 
the world of the ants." 

Unlike ourselves, the ant has the good fortune 
to be far more sensible to pleasure than to pain. 
Amputated or truncated, she does not deviate 
from her path, but hastens toward the nest as 



EPILOGUE 171 

though nothing had happened. But if a sister 
solicits her she stops and shares with her the 
delights of regurgitation. 

With us, happiness is mostly negative and 
passive, and is hardly perceived except as the 
absence of unhappiness; in the ant it is before all 
things positive and active, and seems to pertain to 
a privileged planet, Physically, organically, the ant 
cannot be happy unless she is giving happiness 
to those around her. She has no other joys than 
the joys of duty accomplished, which for us are 
the only joys that leave no regrets, but which most 
of us know only by hearsay. The transports of 
love, in which we think to surpass ourselves and 
escape from ourselves, are merely and essentially 
egoism concentrated or exasperated to such a 
point that it brushes elbows with death or anni- 
hilation the very things that it seeks to annihilate. 
The ant knows other joys, which instead of con- 
tracting happiness enlarge it, multiply it, and 
lavish it upon her innumerable sisters. She lives 
in happiness, because she lives in all that lives 
around her, because all live in her and for her, 
as she lives in all and for all, 



3 

She lives, above all, in immortality, for she is 
part of a whole which nothing can destroy. 
Strange as this assertion may at first appear, the 
ant is a profoundly mystical being; she exists only 



172 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

for her god, and does not imagine that there 
could be any other happiness, any other reason 
for living, than to serve him, to forget herself, 
to lose herself in him. She is wholly steeped in 
the great primitive religion of totemism: the most 
ancient of all religions, the most widely distributed 
of all the religions practised by man. At the root 
of all other religions, underlying all the gods, 
totemism is the earliest pursuit, the first conquest, 
by that which dies, of that which does not die. 
The totem was the collective soul of the tribe, 
Our remotest ancestors, in the words of M, 
Alexandre Moret, the Egyptologist, "believed 
their soul to be secure because it was bound up 
with the totem, that is to say, with an animal or 
vegetable species; a class of objects which could 
not all perish, On the death of the individual, the 
totem, the immortal collective soul, resumed this 
parcel of itself which had emanated from it for 
the term of its ephemeral existence." 

The ant, of course, does not tell herself these 
things nor did our ancestors tell themselves 
these things but they are the substance of her 
life; and some indefinable instinct, dispersed 
through all that breathes, whispers them in her 
soul. Her totem is the spirit of her formicary, as 
the totem of the bee is the spirit of her hive. 
For primitive man the totem was the spirit of 
his clan. In its place we have now nothing more 
than a few evanescent phantoms which will soon 
disappear in their turn. Nothing will be left us 



EPILOGUE 173 

but our life of an hour, and we shall feel ourselves 
to be more and more isolated, less and less pro- 
tected against death. 



We saw, at the beginning of this volume, that 
ants which were as civilized as the most civilized 
ants of to-day, ants with herds of cattle and 
"luxury" coleoptera, are found in the Baltic 
amber: in other words, they already existed in 
the Oligocene and the Miocene periods, long 
before the appearance of man. For millions of 
years, then, they do not seem to have evolved in 
any perceptible degree. Why should this be so? 
Perhaps, as we have already said, because a few 
millions of years are not enough to make evolution 
perceptible. One can only hazard hypotheses, for 
traces of the proto-ant are lacking, just as traces 
of pre-human forms are lacking. But just as we 
still find, in certain islands, primitive men who 
live as those of our ancestors lived who were 
contemporary with the mammoth, so we still find 
a few belated species of ant which have not 
followed the general movement; notably the 
Ponerintf, which are supposed to be descended 
from a more ancient type, belonging to the fauna 
of the Mesozoic or Secondary period, These last 
survivors of a species which became extinct in 
the immemorial backward of time are hardly to 
be numbered among the social insects. Their 



i 7 4 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

colonies contain no more than a. few dozen 
individuals; their stomach is not as yet divided 
and specialized. They are almost exclusively 
carnivorous, and they do not practise the essential 
act of the formicary: regurgitation. Their cuirass 
is stronger than that of the civilized ants, and they 
are equipped with a formidable sting, for since 
they live an almost solitary existence the dangers 
to which they are exposed are all the greater., 
and their association being somewhat precarious, 
their larvae are capable of feeding themselves 
without the assistance of their parents. 

It is, for the time being, very difficult to retrace 
the steps which mark the ascent from the humble 
Ponerin# to the level of the higher ants, for our 
observations of the former nearly all of which are 
Australian, just as, by a curious coincidence, the 
lowest of our savages are Australian are still 
very incomplete. On the other hand, between the 
Mesozoic period and the fossil amber there are no 
traces of ant life; but it was evidently in the 
immense and unknown period extending from 
the Secondary to the end of the Tertiary that the 
social life of the formicary was organized and 
developed, gradually replacing the individual 
existence, to become what we see it to-day. 

We, since we are not, like the ant, physically 
and irresistibly altruistic, have evolved in the 
reverse direction. To collective immortality we 
have preferred individual immortality. But we are 
beginning|to|doubt if it is possible, and in the 



EPILOGUE 175 

meantime we have lost the sense of the collective. 
Shall we recover it? The Socialism and Commu- 
nism towards which we are advancing mark a step 
in this direction. But being devoid of the necessary 
organ, shall we be able to remain in the collective 
stage and prosper ? 

Of this first hope of collective immortality, 
whose remnants still glimmer like embers in the 
instincts and the thoughts of the fathers of 
families, who live again, or continue to live, in 
their children, we may well ask whether it was 
not, after all, the best, the most securely founded, 
and the wisest, and whether we shall not have 
one day to return to it, when all the others have 
come to seem chimerical. It may be that we shall 
have to go even farther, very much farther, and 
resign ourselves at last to the cosmic immortality 
which is the only immortality that is indisputably 
and infallibly certain, and which we do wrong to 
confuse with the immortality of nothingness, 
which cannot exist. But when shall we be of a 
stature to accept it without despair? 

S 

One would say that Nature does not know 
what she wants, or rather, that she does not do 
what she wants to do, that someone or something 
restrains her hand, lest she should do too well 
The old Scandinavian legends tell of the time 
when Satan still reigned. Has that time returned ? 



176 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

Or, if not Nature, is it a demiurge, or one of our 
innumerable gods of old, Ormuzd or Ormazd, for 
example, the father of light and of the little good 
that we enjoy, as the Persians believed, who is 
thwarted by Ahriman, the lord of evil and of 
nothingness ? It is an explanation to which it may 
be we shall have to return by another path than 
that of Christianity,, for all things seem to be 
expiating a crime which no one has committed, 
since He who punishes the crime is alone 
responsible. 

So soon as we posit questions which go 
beyond the poor little circle, no bigger than 
a plate, within which our lives are passed, the 
replies are inevitably uncertain, stammering, 
primitive and contradictory; they have made only 
a few childish advances since the beginnings of 
all the religions and philosophies. Our voice is 
confident and peremptory, our thought unhesitat- 
ing only when we are thinking or speaking of our 
poverty, our little passions, our petty vices, and 
our meal-times. 

Did the Unknowable that leads us, not wholly 
certain of its direction, choose to make three 
experiments, on the termites, the ants, and the 
bees, before launching on time or eternity man, 
its final thought, and the latest comer among the 
animals? Can it be that we are the fourth trial, 
and very probably the fourth unsuccessful experi- 
ment? Is it possible to deduce, from the three 
previous experiments, any presage of our own fate ? 



EPILOGUE i?7 

It is a question that we ought to ask; for we 
ought to interrogate all things. It would be best, 
of course, to address ourselves first of all to our 
own electrons, for they are as old as the worlds, 
They would tell us everything, since they must 
know everything. When we speak it is they who 
are speaking, but they are silent in respect of 
all that we are not able to understand, or have 
not yet deserved to understand. In default of these 
let us turn to those inhabitants of our earth which 
are most like ourselves: to our social insects. We 
have no other point of reference. Here, in its 
triple form, we find the sole analogy, the sole 
counter-proof, the sole prefiguration. This mirror 
with a triple face is hitherto the only one into 
which we can look for an image of our destiny. 
Small as are the actors of these dramas, they have 
their weight and importance, for we know well 
enough that in the infinite in which we all have 
our being size is of no account, and that the events 
which unfold themselves in the heavens obey the 
same laws as those which operate in a drop of 
water. 



Let us leave, for the moment, the termites and 
the bees, which are part of the same problem, and 
consider the ants. They set out from the Ponerin# y 
and they have arrived at the stage in which we 
find them. How far will they go? Are they at 

M 



178 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

their apogee, or already in their decline, as we 
might fear when we consider the morbid and alien 
ferments which the "luxury" parasites are sowing 
in the best of their republics ? Have they a dif- 
ferent future before them? For what are they 
waiting? Millions of years have passed, and have 
counted for nothing; and so there have been 
milliards and milliards of lives and deaths which 
have counted for nothing. But what, then, does 
count for anything? Have they reached their 
goal, and what is this goal ? If the earth, Nature, the 
universe have no goal that we can perceive, why 
should they have one, and why should we ? To be 
born, to live, to die, and to begin all over again 
until all things have disappeared: is not this 
enough ? Someone opens his eyes in the night, sees 
a corner of the earth, an expanse of sea, a few 
stars, a human face, and closes them again for ever. 
What cause has he for complaint ? And is not this 
what happens to us ? Even though it all lasted but a 
second, was it not better than not to have been ? 

What purpose have they served ? What purpose 
do you think we ourselves shall have served when 
we have reached the summit of the curve ? None : 
save that we shall have permitted a few physical 
phenomena, which we call spiritual when they 
occur in our brain, to repeat themselves indefi- 
nitely, and to form themselves, at most, into a 
few different combinations, none of which will be 
final, none of which will lead to anything that has 
not already been. 



EPILOGUE 179 



Lastly, whither do they go, what befalls them, 
what becomes of them when they are dead? Why 
smile at these questions when they are asked of 
insects, and take them seriously when they relate 
to man? Is the difference between us so very 
great ? At every step we have the presentiment of 
their intelligence, and before we can refuse to 
admit it, we have to rebel against the evidence. 
We are no longer confronted by stones or vege- 
tables, or beasts which are the slaves of instinct, 
but by lives which only a transparent membrane 
barely divides from our own, for in many parti- 
culars they come very near to being our equals, 
and of these mysterious particulars we, in our 
ignorance, are but sorry judges. Can a little more 
or a little less cerebral activity change from the 
very foundation the laws of the universe, of justice 
and eternity, awarding immortality, or rendering 
it for ever impossible ? 

There are some things that we find it very 
difficult to admit. That there is not forming, in 
space or time, a sort of reserve in which the fruits 
of all these experiments, of all these efforts, of all 
these struggles against evil and want and suffering 
and imbecility and matter may accumulate; that 
one day all will be lost and wasted; that all will 
have to begin over again, as though nothing 
had ever been accomplished; that while the 
evil aggravates the ills of all and is harmful 



i8o THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

to all 5 the good changes nothing and profits 
no one. 

Is the great sign that divides us from all that 
breathes our discontent? Do we not ask too much 
of a planet of the tenth, indeed of the ten- 
thousandth order? It does what it can, it gives 
what it has. But how do we know that the other 
beings that people it do not complain as we do? 
Are we alone in hoping that there may be some- 
thing better? Is it this thought that sets us apart? 
We may well ask ourselves whence it can have 
come to us, because we have never left this earth of 
ours, nor known other standards than those which 
it offers us. Can the thought which judges and 
condemns be formed by that which it judges and 
condemns? In any event, since we have it, and 
since it differentiates us from all that surrounds 
us, let us not neglect it, for it is without a doubt 
the only thought that comes to us from beyond 
this earth. 



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GREEN (E. E.). "On the Habits of the Indian Ant." ((Ecopkylla 

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HAMILTON (J,). "Catalogue of the Myrmecophilous Cole- 

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HEYDE (K.). "Die Entwicklung der Psychischen Tahigkeiten 

der Ameisen" etc. BioL Zentralb. F. 44. 1924. 
HUBER (J.). "Ueber die Koloniengrundung bei Atta Sexdens." 

BioL Centralb. 25. 1905. Idem. "Smith's Report" for 

1906. 
HUBER (P.). "Recherckes sur les mcsnrs des four mis indigenes." 

Geneva. 1810. 
VON IHERING (H.). "Die Anlage neuer Colonien und Pilzgarten 

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JACOBSON (Edward). "Notes on Web-spinning Ants." Victorian 

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JACOBSON (E.) and WASMANN (E.). ^Beobachtung iiber Poly- 

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JANET (Charles). "Etudes sur lesfourmi$> hsgutyesetles abeilles" 

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Bulletin de la Soc. Zool. de France. 1893. "Appareil four 

fe'levage et I 3 observation des fourmis" Ann. de la Soc. entom. 

de France, vol. 52, p. 62. 1893. "Rapports des animaux 

myrme l cophilesaveclesfourmis"lJ\T&Q%<s>. Ducourtieux. 1897. 

"Observations sur les fourmis." Ducourtieux et Gout. 

Limoges. 1904. 
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KIRBY (W, F.) "Mental Status of Ants, etc," 1883. 



1 84 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

KOCH (C.-L.). "Die Pflanzenlause (Aphiden)" Nuremberg. 

1857. 
LAMEERE (A.), "Notes sur les fourmis de la Belgique" Ann. 

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1802. 
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vol. 2. 1906. 

VON LEEUWENHOECK (A.). " 'Arcana Nature" 1719. 
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LESPES (C.). "Sur la domestication des Glavigen par les 

fourmis." Bull. Soc. Anthr. Paris, vol. 3. 1868. 
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"On the Agricultural Ant of Texas." Proc. Acad. Nat. 

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MICHELET (J.). "U insects." Hachette. 1884. 
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I873- 
MOLLER (A.). "Die Pilzgarten einlger siidamericamschen 

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MORRIS (C.). "Habits and Anatomy of the Honey-bearing 

Ant." Sc. Journ., July, 1890. 



BIBLIOGRAPHY 185 

MULLER (^^."Beobachtungen an Wander amehen (Ed ton 

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1870. 
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vol. 14. 1906. 
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1 86 THE LIFE OF THE ANT 

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TOWNSEND (B. R.). "The Red Ant of Texas." Am. Ent. and 
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WASMANN (E.). (S.J.). "Kritische Verzelchnls der myrme- 
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WHEELER ("W. M.). "Ants." Columbia University Press. New 
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BIBLIOGRAPHY 187 

Colonies by 1 Queen Ants, with Special Reference to the 
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WHITE (W. F.). "Ants and Their Ways." London. 1883. 



INDEX 



Acromyrmex, 124 

Heyeri, 129 
Adelphogamy, 56 
Adlerz, 157 
Aerial gardens, 132-5 
^Esop, 35 
Agaric, cultivated by termites, 

121 

Agricultural ants, 132-52 

Aldrovandi, 9 

Alliances between different species, 
86-8 

Amazons, forced migrations of, 29- 
339>75i8o-5 

Andre, E,, 15,88,121 

AnergateSt 164 

atratulus, 156-7 

Annomcty see Dorylus 

Antenna:, use and function of, 4.0-2, 
62,93-8,115 

Antennal language, 96-9 

Antennophores, 159 

Ant-hills, see Nest 

Ant-rice, 134 

Ants, origin of, 20 $ evolution, 23; 
collective life, 25-8, altruism, 
35, 43, 171; wars, 44; nuptial 
flights, 45-9; wars, 70 et seq\ 
weapons, 72-3; strength, 145- 
152, apparent happiness, 167-8; 
vitality, 168-9; pacific nature, 
1705 evolution, 173-4, 177-8$ 
religion, 172; what is their 
destiny? 179 

Aphides, 85, 114-18 

Arboreal ants, 64-6 

Architecture of nests, 57-8 

Arista oUganthci) 1 34 

Aristotle, 9 

Armies of ants, 70 

Artificial nests, 66-9 

Ateluria forvticaria, 159 
) 160 



tttt) 121 ; manures mycelium, 126; 
nests of, 132 

sexdens t 129-31 

Fo eniueideri) 129 
Attinea, 121, 129 
Attini) fungiculture of, 122-6; 

confederate nests of, 127; ravages 

of, 128 
Avebury, Lord, see Lubbock, Sir 

John 

Balls, living, 19 

Bar, 89, 91 

"Bee, The Life of the," 7 

Bees, 20; regurgitation in, 42 j 
altruism of, 43; respect for 
property, 70; orientation, 107; 
164, 167 

Belt, T., 89, izi 

Bible, the, 22 

Blattoidffi, 20 

Blechmann, 5 1 

Bondrolt, 15 

Bonnet, Charles, II, 107 

Bonnier, Gaston, ru 

Botkrimyrmex decapitan$ t 155-6 

Bouvier, E. L., no 

Brauns, A,, 135 

Bruch, C., 129 

Brun, R,, 67, in 

Bugnion, M. E., 86, 138 

Butterflies, olfactory sense of, 94 

Camponotus, 51 

ligniperdits, $i 

:me, 137 
Carebara vtdua, 53 
"Cattle," see Aphides 
Cerapackyin<z, 19 
Charity, of ants, 40; human, 105 
Cicada, 35 
Clarke, J. M,, 153 



INDEX 



189 



Cloaca of ants' nest, 68 
Cocddae^ exploite3 by ants, 117 
Cocoons, lo-n, 54. 
Coleoptera, in amber, 21; parasitic, 

160-2, 165, 178 
Collective reactions, 96, loij soul 

of community, 51 
Combes, Mme. 146-7 
Communication between ants, 117 
Community, founding of a new, 

*5-5 6 . 

Compassion, apparent, 102-4 
Comte, Auguste, 23 
Concerted action, 24-30 
Confederate nests, 55, 60 
Co-operation, problem of, 92-102 
Cornetz, V., 100, 107-8, 109, in, 

135, 151-2 
Crawley, 157 
Cremastogaster ptlosa, 1 1 7 
Crop, or "social pouch," 36, 38, 49; 

see Regurgitation Cryptogams 

cultivated by ants and termites, 

I20-I 

Datu, 89 

De Geer, K., 9 

Delage, Yves, 1 52 

Direction, sense of, in ants, see 

Orientation 
Dodd, F. P., 138 
Doflein, F., 138 
DolichoderintSi 19 
Dorylin*) 19, 71, 89-91 
Dorylus anomma^ ferocious raids of, 

89-90 

Dorymyrmex pyramica^ 1 54 
Driver ants, see Dorylinae, Ecitini, 

Leptanillini 

Ear, semicircular canals of, in 

orientation, 106, m 
Ecitini, 71, 89, 91 
Ed ton hamatum^ 89 
Eggs, TO, 54, 6 1 
Emery, C,, n, 15, 19 
Endosmosis, 10, 61 
Eocene period, 20 
Ergatogynes, 52 



Escherich, L., 135 

Espinas, A., 32-3 

"Etheromania," 161 

trard, E., 104 

Evil, problem of, 175-6, 179-80 

Evolution of ants, 173-4 

"Exner's faculty," 106 

Fabre, J. H,, 107 

Female or queen ant, 10 

Females, fertilized, 23-4; flight of 
virgin, 46; fertilized, behaviour 
of, 49 ; foundation of colony by, 
49-51; longevity of, 515 care of 
by workers, 6r 

Fielde,Miss Adele, 67, 93, 168 

Fire, extinguished by ants, 146-9 

Food of ants, 36, 61 

Forces, possibility of unknown, 112 

Forel, A., n, 12-13, 19, 51, 62, 
67, 75, 81, 84, 87, 102, 104, 

109-10, 121, 127, 157 

Formica exsecte, 60, 78, 79 
exsectoides, 60 
fusca, 83,94, 103-4, 154, 

157, 165 
lasius, 59 
inicrogyna^ 157 
, pratensis, 72, 78, 79, 80 
rufa, 58, 1 40-9 j increasing 
rarity of, 1495 value of, 
149 

stibsericea, 169 
Formicary, the, 24-5 ; secret of the, 
35-44; types of, 57-8; see 
Nests 

Formicing, 19 
Forntzcoxenus, 71 
Friedrichs, Karl, 138 
Fungicultural ants, see Mushroom- 
Growers, the 
Funlcle, 92-3, 

"Garden of the Gods," Colorado, 

141 _ 

Gigantiops destructor^ 144 
Glebarits, 29, 76-7, 78, 79,83 
Goeldi, E., 121, 129, 138 
Gould, W., 9, ro 



190 



THE LIFE OF THE ANT 



Gourmont, Re*my de, 168 
Granaries, 134-7 

JXarpagonexus sublevis, 52 

Harpegnatus cruentatus, 144 

Harvester ants, 134-7 

Hetschako, 89 

Hibernation, 135 

Hive, the, 7-8, 45, 57 

Hobhouse, 162 

Homing instinct, 109 

Honey ants, 140-3 

Horticultural ants, 135 

Huber, Francois, 1 1 

Huber, Pierre, u, 12, 27-8, 32-3, 
35, 51, 62-3, 66,77, 80, 
81,83, 103, 104, 118,157 
Jacob, 121, 126, 129 

Human body, cells of, 24-6 

Immortality, collective, 175 
Iridomyrmex Goepperli t 21 

Janet, Charles, 14, 51, 67, 157, 

159 
Jumping ants, 144 

Karavieff, 159 

Klebs, 21 

"Kohlrabis," 122, 124-5, 130 

Kutter, H., 67, 79 

La Fontaine, 35 

Language of ants, 96-9 

Larvae, affection for, 33, 54; care of, 
6 1 5 experiments with, 96 

Lasius, 51, 103, 114 
faults, 51, 59, 118 
Jlavus vmbratvs } 117 
fuliginosus, 65 
mixtus, 159 
niger, 96-7, 117 

Latreille, P. A., n, 102 

Leaf-cutter ants, 15; see Mush- 
room-Growers, the 

Leeuwenhoeck, A. von, u 

Leopard killed by ants, 90 

Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau, 102 



Leptanilina, 19 

Lincecum, G,, 134 

Linnaeus, 9 

Locellina. Mazzuchi) cultivated by 
Atta.) 129 

Love, in ants, 32 

Lubbock, Sir John (Lord Avebury), 
51, 67, 68 5 experiments with 
larvee and ants, 96-9, 102, 107 

Lycenidse, exploited by ants, 1 1 8 

McCook, H., 51, 60, 121, 134, 
140-2 

Maeterlinck, M., 51 (note) 

Male ants, 24; death of after 
nuptial flight, 46, 48-9, 55 

Man, destiny of, 175-7 

Manioc ants, 121 

Manure, use of, by ants, 126 

Maternal love of worker ants, 3 3 

Meldah, 67 

Memory of ant for odours, 95 

Mesozoic period, 22, 173 

Messor barbarus, 135-6 

Michelet, J,, 170 

Migration of Amazons, 85 

Migratory birds, 106 

"Milking" of aphides, 116 

Mining ants, 12 

Minnich, 94 

Miocene period, 21, 173 

Moller, A., 121, 124, 129 

Moggridge, J. T., 135 

Monomorium Salomonis^ 40, 163 

Mont, A., 172 

Morality of ants, 102-5 

Mordnilke, 118 

Moret, A., 172 

Miiller, W., 89 

Muscular memory, r 1 1 

Mushroom, common, culture of, 
123 

Mushroom-Growers, the, 115, 120- 
131 

Mycelium, treatment of by fungi- 
cultural ants, 122-6 

Myrmecin<S) 19, 71 

Myrmecophilea in amber, 21 

Myrmecoeystvs Hortvs-Deorum t 37 
melliger^ 141 



INDEX 



191 



Neomyrma, rubida, 74 

Nest, the, 57 et segi subterranean, 

58-64$ arboreal, 64-55 nomadic, 

65-65 154 

Nuptial flight, the, 10, 45-9, 55 
Nymphs, 54; care of, 61 

Odours perceived by ants, 94-5 
(EcophyllaS) 137 

Olfactory sense, 93-5; in orienta- 
tion, 107-110 
Oligocene period, 21, 173 
Orectognatkus sexspinosus, 72 
Ovivorism in dtta, 130 

Pacific species, 74 

Parasites, 99, 153 et seq', services 
performed by, 159; para- 
sitic coleoptera, i6oj in- 
toxicating etheric secre- 
tions of, 160-2; deadly 
effects of, 16 1, 165, 178 
of alien species, 158-66, 

'7 8 

Parasitic ants, 40-1 

Parasol ants, 121-8 
Pastoral ants, 113-19 
Paussfdte, 21 
Permian period, 22 
Pheidole, 137 
Phototropism, 109 
Pieron, H., 51-111 
Plant-lice, see Aphides 
Phtyarthri, 158 
Play, ants at, 62-3 
Pliny, 9 
Pogonomyrmex barbatus, 133 

molefactens, 133-5 

Police, 146 

Polycalic colonies, 55, 60 
Polyergus rufescens, 12 

breviceps, 85 
Polymorphism of ants, 52, 53, 71, 

123, 137, 144-5 
Polyrkachh, 137 

appendiculata,ji 
Ponerinte, 19, 20, 71, 173-4 
Poroniojw's Bruchi^ 129 
Pratensis, 12, 58 
Pre-cretacean period, 22 



Predestination, problem of, 55 
Pres$ilabris> 78 
Proto-ant, 173 
Protoblattoidas, 20 
Pseudogynes, 161 
Pseudomyrmincs, 19 

Queen ants, see Females 
Quercus undulata, 141 

Rabaud, 109 
Raptiformica, 52 

sanguinea, 75 
Reaumur, R. A, F. de, 9-11; his 

observation of the nuptial flight, 

47-8; 66 

Reciprocal affection of ants, 33 
Recognition, mutual, 93 
Red ants, 51 
Regurgitation, the fundamental act 

of the formicary, 375 61, 64, 

105, 114, 141, 171 
Religion of ants, 105 
Reservoir ants, 140-3 
Rest, of ants, 63-4 
RAoxites gongylophora, 122 
"Rice-fields" of "sower" ants, 135 
Rufibarbis, 12,78, 82, 84 

Saaba ants, 121 

Sampaio, 121 

Sanguinese, 58, 75; as slaves of the 

Amazons, 80-3; 161-2, 165 
Santschi, F,, 40, 67 
Seeds planted by Atta, 132 
Serviformicafusca, 52 

glebaria, 78 
Simpel, 51 

Slave-owning ants, 71 
Slave-raids, 75, 82-5 
Slaves, condition of, 78-9 
Sleep of ants, 64 
Social insects, collective intelligence 

f > 33 

Solenopsi's fugax, 67, 154 
"Sower" ant, the, 133 
Specialization of workers, 141-6 
Speech, organs of, 95-6 
Sta'ger, 62 



192 



THE LIFE OF THE ANT 



Strongylognathus alpini, 79 
Hubert, So 

Stumper, R., 149 
Swammerdanij J., 9, 66 

TapinQma, erraticwn, 155 

nigerrimum., 155 
Territorial wars, 85-6 
Termitary, the, 7-8, 45, 57 
Termites, altruism of, 42-35 ants 

war upon, 86; food of, 120; 

fungicnlture of, 120; 164, 167 
Tertiary deposits, ants in the, 20, 

114 

Tetramorium ctzspitum, 72, 79, 157 
Toilet, the ant's, 61-2, 64 
"Topochemism," 109 
Tropism, 109 

Ule, 132 

Ultra-violet rays, ants sensitive to, 
109 



Viehmer, 75 
Visiting ants, 15, 121 
Von Hagens, 157 
Vosseler, J., 89 

Wasmann, E., u, 13, 14, 15, 67, 

75, So, 157, 159, 161, 162 
Wasps, faculty of orientation in, 107 
Weapons of ants, 72-3 
Webster, 1 18 
Wheeler, W. M., 8,9, 11, 14, 15, 

19. 2 5> *7> 75> 134. i57> 159. 

162 

Wheeleriella Santschii, 40, 163 
"White Ant, The Life of the," 7 
Willy, Mrs,, 118 
Workers, versatility of, 143-4; 

specialization of, 144-5 



) 160 
Xylara, cultivated by termites, 12 1 



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